Merkel and the state ministers agree to measures after a 15-hour, emotionally charged conference.
Five-day complete shutdown over Easter planned
BERLIN- Fifteen hours, highly charged emotions from multiple sides, multiple long breaks and what Bavarian minister Markus Söder calls a hard, difficult birth. Businesses, especially in the hotel and restaurant sector bank on hope for customers over Easter. Parents hope that their children will soon go to school. Families hope to travel to see relatives and friends. Sadly, the Corona Virus does not pause on the holidays and especially the British mutated version 1.1.17 is infecting the younger population at a rate that is twice as fast as the original virus on the elderly.
Therefore, the toughest measures to combat the virus yet is going into effect. Aside from the fact that Germany has extended its lockdown to April 18, guidelines at Easter will turn Germany into a ghost town, with empty highways and streets and market squares being occupied by doves and pigeons instead of people and produce stands. There will be a mandatory five-day shutdown of all elements of life in the country. From April 1 to April 5, all businesses will be forced to shut down operations. Restaurants with outdoor dining will be closed during that time. Even in the supermarkets and gas stations they will be allowed to open only on Easter Saturday. The rest of the time they will stay shut. Gatherings at public places will be banned. And family gatherings are reduced to households with a maximum of five persons, minus children aged 14 years and younger. Churches will be asked to hold virtual Easter Sunday services.
And despite pleas from the northern states (Schleswig-Holstein, Mecklenburg-Pommerania and Lower Saxony) to allow for overnight stays for guests travelling inland, all hotels and restaurants will remain closed to tourists during Easter and through April 18th. Travelling will be considered unwelcomed and those traveling in foreign countries will be forced to go into quarantine for 10 days for areas not high risk and 14 days for areas that are high risks. This is in response to the sharp increase of travelers going to Mallorca in the past week.
These guidelines are the toughest ones that have been put into force since the start of the Corona pandemic in March of last year. But it sends a clear message to the population that the virus is a serious issue and one that must be paided attention to, closely. In the past month, there have been numerous protests in almost every city with more than 10,000 inhabitants throughout the country, demanding that the Corona lockdown be lifted, businesses be reopened, children be sent to schools and there is a return to normalcy. This included the latest protests in Kassel, Berlin and Dresden involving tens of thousands of demonstrators, many of them not wearing masks and disobeying Corona guidelines.
There has been pressure on the German government in Berlin and especially Chancellor Angela Merkel and the state ministers from not only within the political party of the Grand Coalition of the CDU/CSU and the Social Democrats, but also from the Greens, AfD, the Leftist Party Linke, and especially the FDP and its chairperson Christian Lindner, who recently challenged Merkel to make a pledge to have the majority of the population innoculated before the summer break, using US President Joe Biden’s campaign to have most of the Americans vaccinated before the July 4th celebrations. Yet with the delay in having tests available for use and the delay in vaccinations, frustrations are brewing and there have even been calls for Germany to deviate from the course of the European Union and go it alone, like it is being done in Hungary.
Still, with the seven-day incidence rate skyrocking on a daily basis, together with the number of new infections, and the sharp decrease in the number of intensive beds available, the measures are necessary to break the third wave, something Germany is right in the middle of. The current incidence rate is 108.7 per 100,000, up from 83 a week ago and from 60, two and a half weeks ago when the government introduced the limited openings on March 3rd which included the Click and Meet strategy, where shopping was allowed with an appointment and the emergency brake was applied if the incident rate is over 100 in a seven-day timespan. The number of new infections have increased by 35% in the past week, ranking Germany in the top five together with France, Brazil and India. Similar percentage rates can be found in the number of intensive station beds in hospitals nationwide. And with these new measures, it is hoped that the general population will come to their senses and understand the severity of the new Corona variant that is effectively wreaking havoc on the younger populations, including school children. Furthermore it should serve as an incentive to save traveling until the summer, where it is hoped that the rates will decrease to a point where restrictions are eased up, while at the same time, half the population will have received at least their first Covid-19 shot.
Still, this will not be the last total shutdown due to the Corona pandemic. Researchers have revealed that there are hundreds of new Corona variants discovered, several of which are capable of adapting to the immune system including those who are vaccinated against the virus itself. Already known are the British, South African and Brazilian variants, but there are several more that will be more dangerous than the one Germany and the rest of Europe are fighting at present. It is highly expected that Covid-19 will be part of normal life and with that, we will have to introduce long-term solutions to the pandemic. There will never be a return to the pre-Corona normalcy like many are wishing for, but there will be more of these pandemic restrictions, such as limited crowds at markets as well as sports and cultural events, click and meet concepts for shopping, daily virus testing and total shutdowns. It’s a question of how this can and will be integrated into the societal landscape.
And this will lie in the responsibility of the next governmental coalition in Berlin once Angela Merkel retires from politics after the September 22nd elections. And that in itself will feature new faces with new ideas on how to get the country running in a new corona society.
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In a knee jerk response to a tsunami of harsh criticism from all fronts, Merkel has reversed course and now there will be no harsh lockdown planned. She announced this today at the conference with state ministers.