German government dampens hopes of relaxing lockdown ahead of crunch talks

The German government has dampened hopes that a step-by-step loosening of lockdown measures will be agreed at the next meeting of state leaders set to be held on Wednesday.

German government dampens hopes of relaxing lockdown ahead of crunch talks
An empty classroom. Photo: DPA

Health Minister Jens Spahn said the federal government would resist any attempts by state leaders to start loosening the measures “until we are clearly under an incidence of 50 (new infections per 100,000 residents in seven days)”.

Speaking on the talk show Anne Will, Spahn said that he could give no-long term perspective for a loosening of the rules. “I know that everyone wants a six-month plan but that’s impossible in this pandemic.”

Economy Minister Peter Altmaier backed up this position, saying that “it would not be responsible to take concrete steps at this stage – the numbers are still too high.”

As infection rates continue to fall nationwide, three state leaders presented plans over the weekend for a step-by-step re-opening of the country.

READ ALSO: Is this Germany's roadmap to head out of lockdown?

The Robert Koch Institute reported a seven day incidence of 76 per 100,000 people for Monday, down from a peak of 198 just before Christmas.

The plans, which were sent out to other state leaders by the minster presidents of Thuringia, Schleswig-Holstein and Lower Saxony, lay out criteria for opening up schools and small businesses like hairdressers.

While each plan was slightly different, they appealed for a nationwide strategy that would consider not only the infection rate, but also intensive care occupancy, the vaccine quota and the rate at which the virus is spreading

Some state leaders are strictly opposed to relaxing the measures at a time when there is still uncertainty about the prevalence of mutated strains of the virus.

“It is annoying to have to take everything so slowly, but that is the only thing that really helps. Our challenger – the virus – doesn’t stick to any of the deadlines we set,” said Bavarian leader Markus Söder on Sunday.

Schools will be big topic

One of the major themes at the Wednesday meeting of state leaders with Chancellor Angela Merkel will be the reopening of schools.

At the last meeting in January, several states angrily resisted Merkel’s plan to keep schools closed but in the end had to concede defeat.

On Monday the federal Education Minister, Anja Karliczek, will publish a hygiene concept which her ministry says will allow schools to stay open even during the pandemic.

“We need an ambitious plan so that we can help the children and young people,” Karliczek said. “After all, it's not just about imparting knowledge, but very much about developing their personalities and enabling social interaction.”

According to press reports, the plan will mean that children will go to school in shifts, thus lowering crowding on buses. They will also have to wear masks at all times.

READ MORE: When (and how) will Germany's schools and Kitas reopen?

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End of the pandemic? What the expiry of Sweden’s Covid laws really means

With the expiry of Sweden's two temporary Covid-19 laws, the downgrading of the virus's threat classification, and the end of the last travel restrictions, April, officially at least, marks the end of the pandemic. We explain what it means.

End of the pandemic? What the expiry of Sweden's Covid laws really means

What are the two laws which expire on April 1st? 

Sweden’s parliament voted last week to let the two temporary laws put in place to battle the Covid-19 pandemic expire on April 1st.

The first law is the so-called Covid-19 law, or “the law on special restrictions to limit the spread of the Covid-19 illness”, which was used during the pandemic to temporarily empower the authorities to limit the number of visitors to shops, gyms, and sports facilities. It also gave the government power to limit the number of people who could gather in public places like parks and beaches. 

The second law was the “law on temporary restrictions at serving places”. This gave the authorities, among other things, the power to limit opening times, and force bars and restaurants to only serve seated customers.  

What impact will their expiry have? 

The immediate impact on life in Sweden will be close to zero, as the restrictions imposed on the back of these two laws were lifted months ago. But it does means that if the government does end up wanting to bring back these infection control measures, it will have to pass new versions of the laws before doing so. 

How is the classification of Covid-19 changing? 

The government decided at the start of February that it would stop classifying Covid-19 both as a “critical threat to society” and “a disease that’s dangerous to the public” on April 1st.

These classifications empowered the government under the infectious diseases law that existed in Sweden before the pandemic to impose health checks on inbound passengers, place people in quarantine, and ban people from entering certain areas, among other measures. 

What impact will this change have? 

Now Covid-19 is no longer classified as “a disease that’s dangerous to the public”, or an allmänfarlig sjukdom, people who suspect they have caught the virus, are no longer expected to visit a doctor or get tested, and they cannot be ordered to get tested by a court on the recommendation of an infectious diseases doctor. People with the virus can also no longer be required to aid with contact tracing or to go into quarantine. 

Now Covid-19 is no longer classified as “a critical threat to society”, or samhällsfarlig, the government can no longer order health checks at border posts, quarantine, or ban people from certain areas. 

The end of Sweden’s last remaining Covid-19 travel restrictions

Sweden’s last remaining travel restriction, the entry ban for non-EU arrivals, expired on March 31st.  This means that from April 1st, Sweden’s travel rules return to how they were before the Covid-19 pandemic began. 

No one will be required to show a vaccination or test certificate to enter the country, and no one will be barred from entering the country because their home country or departure country is not deemed to have a sufficiently good vaccination program or infection control measures. 

Does that mean the pandemic is over? 

Not as such. Infection rates are actually rising across Europe on the back of yet another version of the omicron variant. 

“There is still a pandemic going on and we all need to make sure that we live with it in a balanced way,” the Public Health Agency’s director-general, Karin Tegmark Wisell, told SVT

Her colleague Sara Byfors told TT that this included following the “fundamental recommendation to stay home if you are sick, so you don’t spread Covid-19 or any other diseases”.