Germany to thrash out tougher Covid measures on Thursday

Political leaders are to bring forward planned Covid crisis talks by a week - and will decide on new restrictions aimed at taming the fourth wave.

A sign for Covid rules at a Christmas market in Frankfurt.
A sign for Covid rules at a Christmas market in Frankfurt. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Julia Cebella

A remote meeting was held on Tuesday between outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel and incoming Chancellor Olaf Scholz. 

However – as planned – no new restrictions have been announced. They will instead be decided on later this week at the State Premiers’ Minister Conference (MPK). This meeting is scheduled for Thursday instead of December 9th. 

At Tuesday’s meeting, political leaders discussed possible Covid measures, including mandatory vaccinations, in light of the drastic fourth wave that has seen intensive care units struggling in many parts of the country. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s next chancellor Scholz ‘backs compulsory vaccinations’

Other restrictions on the table include the closures of bars and clubs, and limiting large events.

Bavarian premier Markus Söder told reporters he expected Bundesliga football games to return to playing to empty stands, following an outcry over
a packed stadium in Cologne at the weekend.

“It’s clear that something needs to change when it comes to football,” Söder said.

Several hard-hit German regions, including Bavaria and Saxony, have already cancelled Christmas markets and barred the unvaccinated from public spaces like gyms and leisure facilities.

But critics say the patchwork of rules is confusing, and many are calling for nationwide rules. 

According to sources, Scholz told participants at the talks that he is in favour of barring the unvaccinated from more parts of public life, including non-essential retail.

Scholz said he also wanted to see 30 million Covid jabs administered to people in Germany by Christmas. He suggested that more professionals should be able to carry out jabs, such as dentists and vets, to get more vaccines into arms. 

It came after Germany’s highest court ruled that the ’emergency brake’ measures brought in earlier this year which included curfews and contact restrictions were lawful. 

There have been calls for the country to reintroduce the emergency brake to get a grip on the current situation.

READ ALSO: Will Germany bring in Covid ’emergency brake’ restrictions?

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Bavaria pushes for stricter Covid regulations in autumn

Health ministers across Germany's 16 states are debating the government's new Covid plan - and politicians in Bavaria say they want more clarity.

Bavaria pushes for stricter Covid regulations in autumn

On Tuesday, federal and state health ministers planned to discuss the Covid protection proposals for autumn and winter presented last week by Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) and Justice Minister Marco Buschmann (FDP).

However, some states and politicians are not satisfied with the plans. 

Under the proposals, masks will remain mandatory in air and long-distance transport, as well as clinics, nationwide. But federal states will be able to choose themselves whether to introduce further measures like mandatory masks on public and regional transport.

States will also have the power to take tougher Covid measures if the situation calls for it, such as mandatory masks indoors, but lockdowns and school closures have been ruled out. 

READ ALSO Masks and no lockdowns: Germany’s new Covid plan from autumn to Easter

The draft law states that there can be exceptions from wearing masks in indoor spaces, such as restaurants, for recently Covid-vaccinated or recovered people. 

But Bavaria’s health minister Klaus Holetschek (CSU) told DPA that these planned exemptions were not justified because vaccinated and recovered people can still transmit infections. “There are clear gaps in the current draft law,” said the CSU politician.

Dominik Spitzer, health policy spokesman for the FDP parliamentary group in the Bavarian state parliament, also questioned this exception, saying the rules “simply made no sense”.

“With the current virus variant, that would be impossible to convey, since even vaccinated people can continue to carry the virus,” the FDP politician told Bavarian broadcaster BR24. 

The coalition government’s graduated plan under the new Infection Protection Act, is set to be in force from October 1st until April 7th next year. 

The powers for the states are a first step, “but they do not go far enough for us”, Holetschek added, while calling for some points to be tightened up. “We need strong guidelines for autumn and winter.”

Holetschek said the government needed to tighten up the criteria with which states can adopt and enforce more effective measures to protect against the spread of Covid-19.

READ ALSO: Could Germany see a ‘patchwork’ of Covid rules?

Meanwhile, CDU health politician Erwin Rüddel said Germany was on the “wrong track” and the country should find “a completely different approach” to Covid policy than it has so far.

He accused the coalition government of being in “panic mode” and said he doubted the Bundestag would pass the proposals.

“I believe, there will be significant changes (to the draft)”, he said.

But the chairperson of the doctors’ association Marburger Bund, Susanne Johna, backed the plans.

“The proposal for the new Infection Protection Act gives the states sufficient possibilities to react adequately to the infection situation,” Johna told the Rheinische Post on Tuesday.

“The states can take regionally adapted measures to protect people if the need arises. I can’t understand why this concept is being called into question right away.”