The German federal and state governments have decided to extend the current COVID-19 lockdown due to end on 10th January until the end of the month. Despite the ‘hard’ lockdown over the Christmas period, coronavirus figures have remained relatively high in Germany with a new record of 1,188 deaths reported by the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) on Thursday.
Whilst the number of daily new cases hasn't surged since the restrictions from 16th December, the number of deaths has. Ultimately, the latest lockdown is deemed to have failed in bringing the virus back under control, leading Germany to toughen its current measures.
The extension of restrictions affects the closure of most shops, restaurants, theatres, museums, and leisure facilities. Takeaways are allowed, but drinking alcohol in public remains banned. Childcare centres and schools also remain closed, however the annual childcare leave for parents has been increased by 10 days, and 20 days for single parents. In addition, the government continues to urge employers to offer generous home-office options, and the rest of the population to stay at home.
However, with the new stricter constraints, the stay-at-home order has been taken one step further. There will now be a nationwide ban on domestic movement more than 15 kilometres from your home without a valid reason. This applies to hotspots with a seven day incidence of 200 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. However, Merkel and a number of scientists were reportedly pushing for even stricter conditions on an already unprecedented restraint of movement. The Chancellor called for this measure to come into force in all regions with an incidence of 100 cases or above, which would have applied to around 75% of German districts and cities, effectively bringing regional travel to a standstill.
Furthermore, the limit for private gatherings has been decreased from a maximum of five people from two households to just one other person from another household.
Controls on people arriving into Germany have also been put in place. As of January 11th, it will be compulsory to have a COVID-19 test less than 48 hours before entry, and a “two-test strategy” will be introduced for arrivals. People who are entering the country from high-risk areas must now have two negative test results, and quarantine for a minimum five day period, even if the tests are negative.
The tighter extension of Germany’s lockdown came on Tuesday after the government faced mounting pressure and criticism in recent days. Both Angela Merkel and Health Minister Jens Spahn defended the approach of the government. Merkel said that the decision was “in Germany’s interest”, whilst Spahn expressed hope a new vaccine factory in Marburg would “massively expand” its availability in Germany and the EU. However, politicians of all sides and some media have still been highly critical of Spahn for ordering too few vaccination doses and leaving the procurement of them to the EU.
Case and death figures currently stand around four to five times greater than those in Spring 2020, and the slow start to Germany’s vaccine campaign continues to face criticism. The new measures will need to lower the infection rate enough to reach the minimum target of 50 cases per 100,000 people if German citizens are to hope for an easing of restrictions at the next reassessment on 25th January.