What can we expect from Germany’s plans to ease lockdown?

Pressure is growing on the German government and states to relax lockdown measures. Are opening steps on the cards?

What can we expect from Germany's plans to ease lockdown?
People standing in line at a newly reopened garden centre in Lauffen am Neckar in Baden-Württemberg on Monday. Photo: DPA

What’s happening?

Chancellor Angela Merkel and state leaders are to meet on Wednesday to discuss the coronavirus crisis, and a roadmap out of the shutdown.

At the last meeting, where they decided hairdressers could open from March 1st, we were told more steps could be taken only when states reach 35 new cases per 100,000 people in seven days.

However, numbers are stagnating slightly and this target is going to be more difficult to reach.

Increased rapid testing will also be a big topic at the meeting.

So is the lockdown going to end this month?

Probably not – but it looks like there will be some change. Whatever the case, Merkel will push for restrictions to be relaxed at a slow pace.

The current measures – which include the closure (apart from takeaway food and deliveries) of restaurants, bars, cafes, leisure facilities and cultural centres as well as contact restrictions – remain in place until at least March 7th.

According to German media site Business Insider, a leaked paper shows the government and states want to extend the shutdown in principle until the end of March – but there is hope of a plan for reopening public life.

The proposal says that an ‘opening corridor’ could be possible when regions manage to achieve a stable 7-day incidence below 70 Covid-19 cases per 100,000 people.

For an idea of current numbers: Germany as a whole currently stands at an average of around 66 Covid-19 cases per 100,000 people. The only state below 50 new infections per 100,000 people in seven days is Rhineland-Palatinate, with 49.7. A few states are hovering above the level of 50.

There would be conditions for relaxing measures at a higher incidence rate though, including an increase in rapid testing (more on that below).

There are also plans put forward by states, including Berlin, on how to reopen looking at various factors such as the capacity of intensive care beds. These will likely be discussed at Wednesday’s meeting too.


What might reopen soon then?

According to the Business Insider report, the government and states want to reach a more uniform line on sectors that are already beginning to open. Some states, like Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg among others, have allowed the likes of zoos, flower markets, garden centres and DIY stores to open their doors from March  1st.

If this is agreed, it would allow all states to reopen these kinds of facilities.

What the focus is on after that is up in the air, and will be discussed at the meeting.

According to government sources who talked to Business Insider, there is talk that restaurants with outdoor areas could open back up with strict hygiene concepts.

The idea of opening shops for customers with an appointment (“Click & Meet”), as planned or already implemented by Baden-Württemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saxony-Anhalt and Hesse, is also under discussion. Customers could then book appointments with retailers via internet sites, by phone or by email.

Meanwhile Economics Minister Peter Altmaier (CDU) and the economics ministers of the 16 federal states are also pushing for more opening steps.

“Reaching a general nationwide or regional incidence of 35 or below is currently not considered necessary, provided the additional safeguards are in place,” the economic experts reportedly said in a paper.

According to RND, the paper from the Economics Ministry also says the availability of a sufficient number of rapid antigen tests and self-tests could make a decisive contribution to enabling reopenings.

So what about more testing then?

All opening steps hinge on the rollout of Covid-19 rapid antigen tests, according to reports.

Germany was supposed to introduce free rapid testing for all on March 1st, but this rollout was delayed last week over worries that the logistics had not been thought through.

The details will be talked about at the federal-state meeting and the initiative is expected to come into force soon.

On Monday the Health Ministry put together a proposal that said everyone in Germany should be able to take a rapid test twice a week free of charge by trained staff – for example, in test centres or surgeries.

Home self-administered Covid-19 tests will also soon be on the market. Germany also wants to ramp up its PCR testing again after scaling back over winter.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Germany’s new at-home coronavirus tests

What is the government saying on the record?

The German government continues to urge for a cautious approach ahead of consultations with the states on possible further easing of restrictions.

“We are now in a phase of hope, thank God. But it cannot and must not be a phase of carelessness,” Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said in Berlin on Monday.

He referred to falling numbers of coronavirus patients in intensive care units, increasing numbers of people getting vaccinated, and the mass availability of rapid tests in the foreseeable future. On the other hand, he said, there has been an upward trend in new infections, and new, more contagious virus variants are spreading further.

Seibert emphasised that schools, daycare centres and now hairdressers, among other things, have already been a big opening step.

READ ALSO: German health minister expresses ‘delight’ in drop in Covid-19 infections among elderly

Therefore, it makes sense to first observe the effects and then cautiously take the next steps, he said.

Meanwhile, people are becoming impatient. A new survey found a majority of Germans are in favour of relaxing the lockdown measures.

It’s safe to say that right now things are a little bit up in the air but there is a lot of pressure for the government and states to at least provide a plan on how the country can get back to some kind of normality. We’ll report on the developments in the coming days.

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Could there be a new wave of Covid-19 in Germany this autumn?

It’s back again: amid sinking temperatures, the incidence of Covid-19 has been slowly rising in Germany. But is this enough to merit worrying about the virus?

Could there be a new wave of Covid-19 in Germany this autumn?

More people donning face masks in supermarkets, friends cancelling plans last minute due to getting sick with Covid-19. We might have seen some of those familiar reminders recently that the coronavirus is still around, but could there really be a resurgence of the virus like we experienced during the pandemic years?

According to virologists, the answer seems to be ‘maybe’: since July, the number of people newly infected with Covid-19 has been slowly rising from a very low level.

According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), nine people per 100,000 inhabitants became newly infected in Germany last week. A year ago, there were only around 270 reported cases.

Various Corona variants are currently on the loose in the country. According to the RKI,  the EG.5 (also called Eris) and XBB.1.16 lines were each detected in the week ending September 3rd with a share of just under 23 percent. 

The highly mutated variant BA.2.86 (Pirola), which is currently under observation by the World Health Organisation (WHO), also arrived in the country this week, according to RKI. 

High number of unreported case

The RKI epidemiologists also warned about a high number of unreported cases since hardly any testing is done. They pointed out that almost half of all registered sewage treatment plants report an increasing viral load in wastewater tests.

The number of hospital admissions has also increased slightly, but are still a far cry from the occupation rate amid the pandemic. Last week it was two per 100,000 inhabitants. In the intensive care units, only 1.2 percent of all beds are occupied by Covid-19 patients.

Still, a good three-quarters (76.4 percent) of people in Germany have been vaccinated at least twice and thus have basic immunity, reported RKI. 

Since Monday, doctors’ offices have been vaccinating with the adapted vaccine from Biontech/Pfizer, available to anyone over 12 years old, with a vaccine for small children set to be released the following week and one for those between 5 and 11 to come out October 2nd.

But Health Minister Karl Lauterbach has so far only recommended that people over 60 and those with pre-existing conditions get vaccinated.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Who should get a Covid jab this autumn in Germany?

“The pandemic is over, the virus remains,” he said. “We cannot predict the course of coming waves of corona, but it is clear that older people and people with pre-existing conditions remain at higher risk of becoming severely ill from Covid-19”

The RKI also recommended that people with a cold voluntarily wear a mask. Anyone exhibiting cough, cold, sore throat or other symptoms of a respiratory illness should voluntarily stay at home for three to five days and take regular corona self-tests. 

However, further measures such as contact restrictions are not necessary, he said.

One of many diseases

As of this autumn, Covid-19 could be one of many respiratory diseases. As with influenza, there are no longer absolute infection figures for coronavirus.

Saarbrücken pharmacist Thorsten Lehr told German broadcaster ZDF that self-protection through vaccinations, wearing a mask and getting tested when symptoms appear are prerequisites for surviving the Covid autumn well. 

Only a new, more aggressive mutation could completely turn the game around, he added.

On April 7th of this year, Germany removed the last of its over two-year long coronavirus restrictions, including mask-wearing in some public places.

READ ALSO: German doctors recommend Covid-19 self-tests amid new variant