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Coronavirus: German states agree on Christmas rules

November 25, 2020

Tighten the screws in a bid to salvage some semblance of normalcy at Christmas: That seems to be the essence of a new COVID strategy for December reportedly developed by Germany's regional leaders.

Santa Claus wearing a mask in Germany
Image: SvenSimon/picture alliance

Spurred on by Chancellor Angela Merkel to come up with a "cohesive, collective answer," German state premiers have agreed on new coronavirus lockdown measures for December and probably January. They also include a mini-amnesty over the Christmas period, from December 23 to January 1, according to a draft proposal circulated on Tuesday.

After being rebuffed last week in her bid to intensify some aspects of Germany's lockdown, Merkel put the onus back on regional leaders to come up with a concept on which they can all agree. They are set to present their finalized proposal to the chancellor on Wednesday. 

'I miss grandma and grandpa'

Here are some of the highlights from the draft proposal.

Extending the partial lockdown

In the broadest strokes, the restrictions imposed this November are set for an extension for at least three weeks, until December 20. A decision for January is then scheduled for December 15, but states say they are working on the assumption that restrictions will still be required.

Hotels, restaurants and gyms will remain closed. People should stay at home as much as possible, avoiding unnecessary travel and contact. 

Masks and meetings

  • Private gatherings will be limited to members of two households and up to five people
  • Children under 14 years of age will not be counted among the five
  • Masks to remain mandatory in publicly-accessible buildings, shops and public transport
  • Possible requirement to wear masks outdoors in areas where large numbers often congregate
  • Reducing the standard period of self-isolation for people suspected of contact with a COVID case from 15 to 10 days is also under consideration

Christmas exemptions

To apply from December 23 to January 1

  • Meetings involving people from more than two households to be permitted
  • Maximum of five may be increased to 10 people (under-14s still exempt)
  • People will be encouraged to voluntarily self-isolate for several days ahead of this period
  • Churches may be permitted to conduct festive ceremonies — aiming to avoid typical, larger services

New Year's celebrations

  • Letting off fireworks in streets to be discouraged or perhaps banned in public places
  • Sale, purchase and release of fireworks will not face an outright ban


  • Start of Christmas holidays to be pulled forward in all states to December 16
  • Masks should also be required in classes (currently they are required only when moving around the school, not at desks) from year 7 upwards in areas with more than 50 cases per 100,000 residents
  • However, schools that can demonstrate no infections can be exempt
  • The decision on implementing home schooling to rest with individual states
  • Staggering school start times by year under consideration, in bid to reduce numbers of students arriving and leaving at once
  • Universities to conduct as many classes as possible remotely, with exceptions like laboratory or art studio sessions

Read more: German schools develop 'Plan B' for corona times

Economic stimulus

  • Existing programs to support businesses, the self-employed and clubs or societies should be extended
  • States will encourage the federal government to consider extending its bridging loans for businesses in particular difficulties with no sign of reprieve — like the cultural, travel, and event sectors — until mid-2021
  • Examining whether statutory health funds need additional assistance, amid lower earnings for many members, is also recommended

"If we were to ease restrictions now, then in a week or two we would be in exactly the same situation as we were before the lockdown," Bavarian state premier Markus Söder said on Wednesday. "Therefore we must extend the lockdown and intensify measures in hotspots." 

Söder also alluded to rising daily death figures, as the Robert Koch Institute reported a single-day high of 410 deaths on Wednesday. It also logged 18,633 new cases.

New, flexible focus on caseload?

However, states with lower caseloads might yet be allowed to choose to lift their restrictions even if the country as a whole could not. 

Read more: WHO says Europe failed to learn from Asia

"States that are not risk areas, if they are visibly able to get below 50 cases [per 100,000 residents per week] in a stable and sustained way, must then have the opportunity to ease restrictions," Manuela Schwesig, the Social Democrat state premier of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, told Deutschlandfunk radio on Monday. 

Schwesig said her own state's rate, currently hovering around 46 cases per 100,000 for the previous week, would not yet qualify in her mind to ease restrictions as it was so close to the threshold. She said a number nearer 35 might be appropriate.

But even by Wednesday morning, hours before the final talks between the states and Chancellor Merkel, the idea of regional exceptions remained contentious.

"[Public] acceptance sinks, if every German state takes different measures," senior CDU politician Norbert Röttgen told business publication Wirtschaftswoche, adding that recent measures had typically come a little too late and not always in a unified manner. "One of the great successes of the first phase was that such a high level of unity and consistency could be achieved," Röttgen said.

COVID-19, the great unequalizer

Hallam Mark Kommentarbild App
Mark Hallam News and current affairs writer and editor with DW since 2006.@marks_hallam