Germany extends coronavirus lockdown, but eases some measures
From March 8, book shops, florists and garden centers may reopen, and up to 5 people from 2 different households will be permitted to meet.
Germany is easing some of its pandemic restrictions but will extend its lockdown, with many non-essential shops unable to reopen unless infection numbers reduce.
Caught between resurgent coronavirus rates and a public exasperated by the tight restrictions put in place last fall, Chancellor Angela Merkel and the country’s 16 state premiers came up with a compromise late Wednesday, after over eight hours of intense debate.
From March 8, book shops, florists and garden centers will be allowed to reopen as long as strict hygiene measures are in place, with further reopenings possible later this month, depending on infection data.
Also from next week, up to five people from two different households will be permitted to meet, with children under the age of 14 not counting toward the total. Currently, a single guest from one other household is permitted.
Speaking at a press conference in Berlin following her meeting with state leaders, Merkel said the next stage of the reopening may happen on March 22, but only if “there is a stable or decreasing trend” of new infections. At that next stage, Germany would allow catering businesses to reopen their outdoor spaces, and theaters, opera houses and cinemas to resume operations.
But if the numbers go in the wrong direction, Merkel said Germany would implement an “emergency brake.”
“If there is an incidence of 100 [new infections per 100,000 inhabitants] between one opening step and the next, and this is the case for three consecutive days, then one has to go back to this step two days later,” she said.
The chancellor said any prospective relaxation of lockdown measures would have to happen amid continued caution due to mutations of the virus and argued the easing was only possible thanks to “two helpers” — vaccines and new diagnostic tests.
To speed up the sluggish vaccine rollout, Merkel said the standing committee on vaccines would quickly authorize the use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab in those over the age of 65, citing new data that showed it would be safe and effective to do so.
In addition, “the interval between the first and second vaccinations will be stretched to its maximum,” the chancellor said, meaning there will be a 42-day gap for the BioNTech/Pfizer shot and a 12-week one for Oxford/AstraZeneca. “That will allow us to vaccinate more people faster,” Merkel said.
Meanwhile, testing for the virus will also be ramped up.
“Starting on March 8, there will be one federally reimbursed [rapid] test for each citizen per week,” Merkel said.