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Germany edges toward April lockdown extension

March 21, 2021

Several German states have called for coronavirus curbs to remain in place into April, according to a draft plan. Top officials are set to discuss the shutdowns on Monday.

A sign in Berlin indicates the mandatory use of masks
Germany is again seeing a rise in coronavirus cases, despite the vaccine rolloutImage: John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images

Several states are seeking to extend COVID-19 restrictions into April as Germany battles a third wave of the coronavirus, according to a draft plan obtained by news agencies on Sunday.

The proposal comes as the coronavirus incidence rate crossed the critical mark of 100 cases per 100,000 people. The government had previously announced that this would be enough to trigger new curbs.

The draft document, seen by the DPA and AFP news agencies, cited the high infection rate, which is being "accelerated by COVID-19 variants."

One step forward, two steps back?

Europe's biggest economy had begun easing restrictions before the latest wave of infections. The authorities reopened schools in late February, and some shops were allowed to resume business earlier this month.

The remaining curbs are set to last until the end of March. On Monday, Chancellor Angela Merkel is due to meet with state leaders to decide how to proceed.

But with cases rising — 13,733 new infections recorded on Sunday — the worst-hit areas may soon have to reimpose restrictions, described as applying the emergency brake.

Merkel's aide distances chancellor from lockdown plan

The head of the Chancellery, Helge Braun, appeared to downplay concerns about a further extension.

He wrote on Twitter on Sunday that the draft document had not come from the chancellor's office.

Merkel told a news conference on Friday that Germany should not hesitate to go into lockdown again if necessary.

"I had hoped that we would manage without using this emergency brake, but that won't be possible if I look at the development of the past days," she said.

DPA reported that the extension plan was drafted by states led by the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), the junior partners in Merkel's ruling coalition.

SPD co-leader Saskia Esken threw her support behind the extended curbs on Twitter.

"As long as testing and vaccinations aren't in full swing, we have to postpone planned openings and take another step back into the lockdown," she wrote.

Extension backed by senior politicians

The head of Merkel's Bavarian sister CSU party, Markus Söder, warned the pandemic could turn into an "endless wave."

He called for the emergency brake to be implemented nationwide, adding that rules that differed depending on the state had led to confusion among the public.

Vice-Chancellor Olaf Scholz warned people against traveling during the Easter holidays, telling Bild am Sonntag newspaper: "We simply cannot afford that in the current infection situation." 

SPD health expert Karl Lauterbach told Welt Am Sonntag that those measures that had been eased over the past two weeks must now be "reversed." He said the lockdown should be extended until mid-April.

Frustration grows in Germany

With the arrival of spring and the Easter holidays, the lockdown extension is unlikely to go down well with many Germans — who are growing weary of stay-at-home orders that have been in place since mid-November.

The draft paper does, however, offer some comfort as it moots the idea of allowing the public to take "low-contact vacations."  People may be able to travel to apartments and vacation rentals or use caravans and mobile homes where social distancing rules can be maintained.

This would depend on negative COVID tests and observing strict hygiene measures.

Some cities tighten curbs 

Some parts of Germany have already reversed their decision to ease lockdowns after local incidence rates exceeded the 100 figure for several days. 

Germany's second-largest city, Hamburg, returned to a full lockdown on Friday after recording levels that peaked above 100 for four consecutive days.

The city of Cologne, in Germany's most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, imposed limited restrictions after its rates began to hover just above the 100 mark.

mm/dj (AFP, dpa)

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