After the first four and a half hours, in which the talks in the federal state proceed only at snail’s pace or not at all, the chancellor’s collar bursts open. It’s Monday night around 6:30 pm and at this point the prime minister’s conference has only agreed on two points that don’t go far enough for Angela Merkel – certainly not. At the start of the meeting, she let her head of the chancellery, Helge Braun (also CDU), who was an intensive care physician in his pre-politics life, paint a bleak picture of the current corona situation in Germany, as the dangerous virus mutation B.1.1.7 got the upper hand and the number of new infections is increasing rapidly. She herself will later speak of a “new pandemic”, “significantly more deadly, significantly more contagious”, which has “eaten” previous successes in the fight against Corona.
This warning could already be read in the proposed resolution for the meeting. None of the participants denies that “without clear mitigation measures, the number of new infections would increase so rapidly that an overload of the health system is likely as early as April,” as the draft introduction said. But as to how specifically to prevent this, the group is falling apart like never before in a year of a pandemic.
Lockdown extended, emergency brake decided
It’s easy to agree that any restrictions already in place for private gatherings, as well as retail and gastronomy, should remain in effect until at least April 18. And Merkel’s “emergency brake”, the reservation under which the easing measures agreed in early March were subject, is explicitly confirmed. It was therefore clear that in regions with more than 100 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants per week, the relaxation measures should apply again – for example, no more store openings for future customers. The rules for private contacts at Easter are also stricter than initially thought: Contrary to the table template, no more family members can get together at this point – the self-proclaimed “Caution Team” around Merkel and Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Söder (CSU) prevails.
Easter holidays on the North Sea and the Baltic Sea have been rejected
But all this is not enough for the Chancellor in this situation. Aside from a few obvious things, nothing tangible has been decided from their point of view. “Merkel is frustrated that the prime ministers have only confirmed the emergency brake and have not supported further tightening,” said one following the debate. Merkel was fed up with the course of the discussion when the possibility of “contactless” holidays in her own state arises – in holiday apartments, on the campsite or in the mobile home. Especially in the coastal countries it makes no sense that the planes to Mallorca are full, but that vacations inland should remain impossible. First of all, the Prime Minister of Schleswig-Holstein, Daniel Günther (CDU) and the Prime Minister of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Manuela Schwesig (SPD), announce a protocol statement on the decision text, according to which they want to act independently of the outcome of the summit. This is exactly where Merkel pulls on her personal emergency brake.
Angela Merkel informs prime ministers that this is not the way to go public, as participants report. The measures are too half-hearted, too contradictory, too inconsistent. Just like this year, the Chancellor is in danger of withdrawing its approval of the total package if the coastal states insist on doing it alone at Easter. Merkel interrupted the meeting knowing that none of the participants could politically afford not to have her on board. Time to think. The session pause will be longer than the previous session.
Exit restrictions and mask requirements for passengers
A small group of Merkel, Söder, Braun, Vice-Chancellor Olaf Scholz and the Mayor of Berlin Michael Müller as the current president of the prime minister’s conference (both SPD) struggled for hours to find a compromise. The result is a proposal well after midnight that surprises many – and yet, after another two-hour debate, has the support of the entire group. In countries with an incidence of more than 100 days over seven days, not only additional measures should be introduced – exit restrictions, even more extensive contact rules or the obligation to wear medical masks if the passenger comes in their own car from another household. In particular, the domestic journeys, which some Prime Ministers had in mind, turn into the exact opposite: from April 1-5 there is an “extended rest period at Easter”.
Extra hard lockdown around Easter
Behind this formulation is a super hard short lockdown. Maundy Thursday and Holy Saturday are de facto public holidays, on which gatherings in public areas are generally prohibited, shops including supermarkets must remain closed, but petrol stations are allowed to be open. An exception to this is then planned for “grocery stores in the narrow sense” on Saturday, as Merkel said shortly before three on Tuesday morning during the press conference in the chancellery. She also says the federal government will file a corresponding ordinance based on the Infection Protection Act. The churches are asked to keep their Easter services only virtual. According to the Chancellor, the five “rest days” in a row “will not solve all problems”, but are intended to ease the “very, very serious situation” a little.
Tübingen will be a testing center for the federal government
The resolutions also include the fact that the states can designate cities or districts in which subsequent rural openings will be tested with well-designed testing concepts. In this context, Merkel explicitly mentioned the city of Tübingen as a role model. The group confirmed its goal of introducing comprehensive rapid testing in schools and day care centers. The goal is to test every student and teacher twice a week. The requirement that has meanwhile been set that schools and day-care centers that cannot guarantee this double testing per week close again, or not open at all, is not reflected in the text of the resolution, nor is the automatic closure of schools with an incidence of seven days. or more 200
Airlines test crew and passengers
Since domestic tourism is still banned today, the country leaders and the Chancellor are urging you to refrain from controversial foreign tourism. Where it does take place, it should be safer. For legal reasons, it is initially not possible to combine holiday travel abroad with quarantine and mandatory tests before return and upon entry into Germany, regardless of the number of cases in the country of destination. According to Merkel, Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer (CSU) has an agreement with the airlines parallel to the summit, so that they can carry out tests on crew and passengers themselves before leaving for Germany. In addition, the federal government wants to amend the Infection Protection Act to make it a general requirement to test before departure as an entry requirement for flights to Germany.
Angela Merkel, who largely prevailed with her position that night, speaks of “very extraordinary decisions we had to make.” She does not want to admit a mistake at the previous prime minister’s conference, when opening steps were agreed when the number of infections had already increased slightly: “We knew we were taking a risk.” In the worst case that has now occurred, an agreement was reached on 3 March on the emergency brake that has now been activated.