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Will Germany bring in new Covid ’emergency brake’ restrictions?

Chancellor Angela Merkel and her soon-to-be successor Olaf Scholz are talking with state leaders on how to handle the Covid situation in Germany. Here's what they are considering.

People walk in the centre of Cologne on Tuesday.
People walk in the centre of Cologne on Tuesday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Oliver Berg

What’s the latest?

Merkel and Scholz are holding a remote crisis meeting with the heads of the states on Tuesday afternoon today to discuss the dramatic Covid situation in Germany. It comes ahead of the planned Covid talks on December 9th. 

They will be discussing Germany’s constitutional court ruling, which may pave the way for tougher restrictions. 

The political leaders will also be looking at the new crisis team aimed at coordinating the government response, as well as how to deal with the new Omicron variant. 

READ ALSO: German court rules partial lockdown lawful

What’s this about a court ruling?

It wouldn’t be Germany without a high-profile court ruling, would it? This time it’s about the constitutional court which said on Tuesday that far-reaching restrictions brought in as part of the ‘federal emergency brake’ rule aimed at slowing down coronavirus infections were lawful.

The controversial emergency brake measures were brought in back in April 2021 in a bid to help get the third Covid wave under control and even out the wildly different patchwork of measures across the 16 states. Districts had to bring in measures like curfews and bans on contact when Covid infections rose above a certain level.

The court gave two rulings on Tuesday – one on curfews and contact restrictions and another on school closures. Judges said these restrictions were compatible with Germany’s Basic Law due to the context of the “extremely dangerous pandemic situation”.

Some of the complaints on the measures had been lodged to the court by politicians from the Free Democrats (FDP), which is one of the parties entering into the new German government coalition. 

What measures do political leaders want to see?

Pressure is growing on German authorities to do more to stem the spread of Covid due to rising infection figures, packed-out intensive care units and worries over the new Omicron variant.

State premier Tobias Hans (CDU) said that in view of the “national pandemic emergency”, there must be “nationwide, emergency brake measures”.

Merkel’s chief of staff Helge Braun (CDU), also insisted on a nationwide uniform “emergency brake” in the fight against the dramatic fourth wave of the pandemic.

“We now need an emergency brake that functions nationwide according to uniform rules that are comprehensible to citizens,” Braun told DPA.

“The ruling (by the constitutional court) makes it clear that binding nationwide action is possible in the corona crisis. And I add: in the current, difficult situation, it is also necessary.”

Braun, however, dampened expectations for the federal-state consultations on Tuesday, saying: “Decisions are not planned for today. That was the precondition for the meeting,” the CDU politician told RTL and ntv.

READ ALSO: German leaders to discuss tougher Covid restrictions

Calls for action are also being heard from the ranks of the incoming government.

Green health politician Janosch Dahmen said: “We need a uniform partial shutdown in many regions of the country to break the fourth wave.”

He said this meant targeted closures of restaurants, bars and clubs, as well as cancelling larger events when needed. Schools and daycare centres, however, should remain open as far as possible with masks and daily tests, said Dahmen.

The Greens’ Katrin Göring-Eckardt called for decisions to be taken quickly.

“I think that this week we must have a clear idea of how to proceed,” said Göring-Eckardt told broadcaster ARD.

Decisions must be made now, “which will then apply nationwide”. What has to be done is obvious: “reduce contacts”, and that “together, nationwide, according to common criteria”, she added.

Meanwhile, Green co-leader Robert Habeck said that Germany “will need new uniform measures to get through the winter”.

“What has to happen is absolutely clear: contacts must be reduced,” said Habeck, also calling for unvaccinated people to be banned from “all public facilities” apart from essential shops.

“This is then – it must be said so harshly – a lockdown for the unvaccinated,” he said.

Can Germany bring in these kinds of sweeping measures?

It’s a good question. The German parliament and states voted to allow the so-called ‘epidemic situation of national importance’ to expire on November 25th. These ‘pandemic emergency powers’ allowed federal and state governments to order hard-hitting measures without the approval of parliaments

The government and states instead reformed the legislation to include wide-ranging measures for combatting the fourth wave, including the implementation of a national ‘3G’ rule in the workplace and on public transport. 

READ ALSO: Germany reforms law for sweeping Covid measures

But the reformed law stops short of allowing blanket closures of schools and businesses, or domestic travel restrictions. 

There is, however, the possibility for hard-hit regions to bring in tougher restrictions.

Acting Chancellor Merkel’s CDU/CSU parties said at the time that the measures would not be enough, and only agreed to the changes to the infection protection laws if they were evaluated to see if improvements were necessary.

Meanwhile, the incoming government coalition – made up of the Social Democrats, the Greens and the FDP – said they wanted to wait until the ruling by the constitutional court was published to decide about a possible tightening of Covid measures. 

Tagesschau reported that the Bundestag could re-establish the ‘epidemic situation of national importance’ with a fairly simple resolution.

“This would provide a legal basis for all previous crisis instruments in one fell swoop,” said the broadcaster. This could happen in the next regular session in the week of December 6th or earlier in a special session.

Or it may be the case that Merkel, Scholz and German state leaders decide on far-reaching measures together that the states would then apply themselves.

But this would depend on the federal government and states reaching an agreement – which hasn’t often been easy in the past.

Member comments

  1. There will be a lot of angry German (and other residents) if the government reneges on their promise not to lockdown the vaccinated. We are all to be punished for the stupid actions of some people. Let the hospitals fill up. If an unvaccinated person gets COVID and needs care, screw them. If a person needs specialized care in a hospital and the bed is filled with a unvaccinated COVID patient, unhook them and wheel them out to the curb. You made your bed, now sleep in it! The unvaccinated are beyond selfish.

    1. Mandatory vaccination is required. I have no tolerance for anti vaxxers that are messing it up for everyone else.

      1. I agree. We are at least 95% on our bases in Germany because of mandates and that is 5 years old and up. Many of our youngest children get their second shot next week. After that, only a handful with be unvaxxed and those 4 and under.

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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.”