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Merkel warns against reopening too quickly

February 23, 2021

The chancellor reportedly told a closed-door meeting of conservative lawmakers that Germany is already in a "third wave," and warned against a hasty reopening.

German chancellor Merkel wearing a mask
Fast-spreading coronavirus variants are complicating Germany's re-opening plansImage: Michael Sohn/AP/picture alliance

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Tuesday that Germany will need to re-open cautiously and step-by-step in order to avoid a sudden return to lockdown if COVID infections pick up again.

"We cannot afford ups and downs," Merkel told participants of an online conference of the center-right CDU/CSU parliamentary group, according to several sources who spoke to reporters following the meeting.

Next Wednesday, Merkel will meet with the leaders of Germany's 16 states to discuss the way out of a lockdown that began in November and was  extended until at least March 7.

What are Merkel's plans?

Merkel told the lawmakers Tuesday that Germany is currently in the "third wave" of coronavirus, as fast-spreading virus variants  continue to circulate

The chancellor told lawmakers that loosening of restrictions should be carried out in three stages.

The first is lifting restrictions on personal contacts between households, followed by schools and sports. The third stage would be re-opening restaurants and cultural institutions.

These re-openings should be combined with increased testing capacity. The federal government is planning provide free access to rapid coronavirus tests by the first week of March, after delaying the rollout.

Vaccinating teachers and day care workers should also be given priority. Primary schools and daycares have been opened in 10 states since Monday.

What is the state of the pandemic in Germany?

An important metric used by officials is the so-called seven-day incidence, which measures the number of cases over a week out of a population of 100,000.

At the last meeting between Merkel and state leaders, a target of 35 infections per 100,000 was set as a precondition for loosening restrictions locally.

The current nationwide average seven-day incidence is 60.5/100,000, according to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI). However, the incidence rate varies widely by region. In Baden-Württemberg, the number is around 45, in Thuringia, it is hovering at 119.

The R-value, which measures the rate of transmission, was at 0.98 on Tuesday. This number measures how many further people a COVID-positive person will infect. Keeping the R-value below one is a sign transmission is slowing.

Merkel and the COVID crisis

What are German health officials saying?

On Tuesday, the RKI released a re-opening strategy paper called "ControlCOVID." The strategy calls for using tracking indicators that go beyond the R-value and seven day incidences to determine the severity of local COVID outbreaks.

These local indicators include the number of free intensive care beds, the incidence of COVID hospitalizations among people aged over 60, and the proportion of contact persons per infection that can be tracked.

The RKI also calls for using three "intensity levels" to determine how far restrictions can be loosened in a particular area.

For example, level one entails a seven-day rate between 10 and 35, and would allow between 50 and 100 people to gather indoors. Level three, with a rate of above 50, calls for lockdowns and contacts reduced to people from the same household.

wmr/rs (AFP, dpa, Reuters)