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The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, plans to take control over the Covid-19 response from federal states to impose restrictions on regions with high numbers of new infections, as the head of the country’s disease control agency said Germany needed a two- to four-week lockdown to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed.
“Germany is in the middle of a third wave, so the federal government and the states have agreed to add to the national legislation,” a spokesperson for the German chancellor told reporters on Friday.
“The aim here is to create uniform national rules,” she added, explaining that a change to the country’s pandemic law would likely be put before cabinet on Tuesday next week.
According to reports in the German press, the bill would allow the national government to impose night-time curfews, shop closures and strict testing requirements for businesses in regions that are recording more than 100 new infections per 100,000 people over the course of seven days.
Under the current balance of power, Germany’s states are free to decide how they interpret the requirements of the “emergency break” mechanism. In recent weeks Merkel has repeatedly expressed her frustrations with state premiers unilaterally loosening restrictions in spite of rising infection numbers.
“The solution we have found was necessary because the emergency brake was being applied in very different ways”, her deputy spokesperson, Ulrike Demmer, said on Friday, adding that talks between Merkel and state premiers planned for Monday had been cancelled.
Changing the law comes with considerable risk for Merkel: enshrining specific infection rates in legislation could require her government to put the law to endless ad-hoc parliamentary votes as the pandemic situation changes. A more permanent power-grab could in turn be blocked by the Bundesrat, the constitutional body through which the states participate in the legislative process.
Despite cultural venues, restaurants and leisure facilities having been closed since last November, Germany has been unable to prevent a third wave of the virus, driven by the more infectious B117 variant first discovered in the UK.
On Friday the Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s disease control agency, reported 25,464 new infections within the past 24 hours, the highest daily rate of the country’s third wave so far. A reporting lag caused by the Easter break means the latest numbers may not yet give an accurate indication of the pandemic’s dynamic.
But the health minister, Jens Spahn, said on Friday that reports from hospitals around the country painted an alarming picture, with the number of Covid-19 patients on intensive care beds having risen by 20%, to 4,500, over the course of the past week.
“If the trend continues, then that is too many for our health system,” said Spahn. The number of free intensive care beds has fallen to 2,911, the lowest number since the start of the pandemic.
Lothar Wieler, the head of the Robert Koch Institute, said a lockdown lasting two to four weeks was necessary to break a third wave that could no longer be completely stopped. “Every day in which we don’t act, we lose lives”, Wieler said at a joint press conference with Spahn.
In the meantime, a gear change in the country’s vaccination programme is providing a source of hope. On Thursday, Germany injected 719,927 doses of Covid-19 vaccines, the second record number in a row and almost twice as many as on Tuesday.
As of Friday morning, Germany had vaccinated 14.7% of its population against Covid-19. General practitioners being integrated into the rollout as of this week, the start of second-dose injections and an enthusiasm for the AstraZeneca vaccine among the over-60s have been attributed as factors behind the gear change.
Nonetheless, Wieler said on Friday that Germany was still some time away from being able to squash the pandemic curve through vaccinations alone.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Merkel sets out plan to take control of Germany’s Covid response | Germany