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Germany’s new coalition government ‘thwarted Merkel plan for two-week lockdown’

Germany’s new government thwarted a plan by outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel to put in place a two-week Austria-style national lockdown, German tabloid Bild reported on Wednesday.

Germany's outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel and incoming Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa POOL | Michael Kappeler
Germany's outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel and incoming Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa POOL | Michael Kappeler

One of Germany’s new ‘traffic light’ coalition government’s first actions was to overrule a plan by the government of outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel to put in place an immediate two-week lockdown. 

Merkel put forth the proposal on Tuesday evening, and according to Bild the lockdown would have applied from Thursday onwards. It was however knocked back by the incoming government, who said it would have been interpreted by the public as a “bad political trick” in tandem by the old and the new government, Bild reported on Wednesday afternoon

Citing several sources close to the government, Bild said Merkel wanted to cut rising infection rates through a ‘handbrake’ style national lockdown, which would have included closures of bars, restaurants and shops. 

READ ALSO: LATEST: Germany’s next government sets out roadmap for post-Merkel era

Like Austria’s lockdown, which came into effect on Monday, November 22nd, the measure would have applied not only to the unvaccinated, but also to those who have been vaccinated against Covid or who have recently recovered from the virus. 

Germany’s new Infection Protection Act came into effect on Wednesday, which prevents such a nationwide lockdown and instead places greater responsibility on Germany’s 16 federal states. 

Therefore, the new act restricts the current government’s power to put in place a nationwide lockdown should it be deemed necessary and will require agreement from the states should harsher measures be adopted. 

Covid cases have been surging in Germany in recent days, hitting record heights. 

Several parts of the country, primarily in the heavily-hit south, have put in place restrictive measures including stay at home orders and requiring restaurants to close. 

READ ALSO: UPDATE: European countries ‘must act urgently’ amid worsening Covid outlook

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POLITICS

Germany’s Scholz to meet Brazil’s Lula on Latin American tour

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz begins a Latin American tour on Saturday, during which he will become the first Western leader to meet Brazilian President Lula since the latter's inauguration.

Germany's Scholz to meet Brazil's Lula on Latin American tour

Accompanied by a delegation of business leaders, Scholz will visit Argentina, then Chile, before heading to Brazil, Latin America’s biggest economy.

All three countries are rich in natural resources and “very interesting partners” for Europe’s top economy, a government source in Berlin said.

The visit comes as German business seeks new opportunities overseas following the economic shock caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and as concerns grow about a heavy reliance on China.

Scholz will meet Argentine President Alberto Fernandez when he arrives in Buenos Aires on Saturday.

But the Brazilian leg of the trip will be most closely watched.

Germany, and more broadly the European Union, are seeking to reset relations now that Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is in power, following the divisive administration of far-right leader Jair Bolsonaro.

EU-Mercosur deal

One key topic of discussion will be a trade deal between the EU and trade bloc Mercosur, which includes Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.

Although a deal was reached in 2019 following 20 years of talks, it has not yet been ratified, and has faced a wave of criticism in Europe, particularly among the agriculture and ecological sectors.

This week however, Lula signalled a renewed focus on finalising the accord, saying it was “urgent and extremely important” to reach agreement.

Ahead of the trip, Germany’s powerful machine tool makers’ federation called for the deal “to finally be implemented after years of going nowhere”.

“Time is pressing,” it said.

Germany will also be trying to ensure it does not lose ground to China, which is increasingly becoming a trade rival for European powers and the United States in Latin America.

Protecting forests

The environment will be high on the agenda when Scholz visits Brazil. After Lula’s election victory in October, Berlin said it was ready to resume payments to a fund that aims to protect the Amazon rainforest.

Germany, along with the fund’s biggest donor Norway, had halted payments after deforestation surged under climate-sceptic Bolsonaro.

Bolsonaro’s administration caused “a rupture in Brazilian environmental policy and closed the doors of environmental diplomacy”, said Roberto Goulart Menezes, of the institute of international relations at the University of Brasilia. “Lula’s government, on the contrary, is resuming this agenda and placing it among its priorities.”

As Russia’s war against Ukraine grinds on, Germany will seek to use the Latin American tour to drum up further international support against Moscow, the Berlin government source said.

Argentina, Chile and Brazil have criticised the invasion of Ukraine at the United Nations but have not adopted sanctions against Moscow.

Lula caused shock last year when he said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was “as responsible as” Russian President Vladimir Putin for the conflict.

“We will underline that the contours of peace are relatively simple — that Russia leaves a territory where it has no business,” the German source said.

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