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Will Germany impose a lockdown?

March 20, 2020

Saturday is a key day as officials battle on whether to lock the nation down. The government will closely monitor people’s behavior to see if they are taking the measures implemented this week seriously.

An empty Marienplatz in Munich, Germany
Image: Imago Images/Zuma/S. Babbar

The decision of whether to lock down Germany entirely hinges on the behavior of its citizens, the Chancellor’s office announced Friday.

Angela Merkel’s Chief of Staff, Helge Braun, described Saturday as a crucial day in deciding on possible lockdowns because of the coronavirus. 

"We will look at the behavior of the people this weekend," the CDU politician told Der Spiegel. "Saturday is a decisive day, and we will keep a close eye on that."

Chancellor Merkel wants to hold a telephone conference call with state premiers on Sunday evening. This is likely to include the question of whether and when lockdowns should be imposed.

"On Saturday, people traditionally meet each other because they have the day off," Braun said. 

"Unfortunately, this is not possible outside the nuclear family at the moment. This must be stopped now. If this does not happen, it is possible that more far-reaching measures will also be decided in the federal states, although we actually want to avoid this."

Read more: Coronavirus latest: Global death toll surpasses 10,000

Last resort

They are counting on "the population understanding the measures and being prepared to restrict their social life. And if we look at neighbouring countries that have already imposed lockdowns, it becomes clear that this would be an enormous additional burden."

The head of the German Medical Association, Klaus Reinhardt, has told media outlet Redaktions Netzwerk Deutschland (RND) that the measures Chancellor Merkel has implemented so far are sufficient in tackling the outbreak.

Some countries across Europe have gone into full lockdown, but Reinhardt says that in Germany, closing schools, bars and restaurants, along with prohibiting large religious gatherings, is the right path. 

He told RND: "There is no alternative to the federal government's radical measures. We have to make sure that the infection curve is as flat as possible."

Reinhardt recognized the threat posed to the elderly but also said an exit strategy to the current measures needs to be considered:  "At some point they have to be adjusted and reduced. For two reasons: The fears and worries would overwhelm people psychologically. Otherwise, economic life would collapse at some point.

For psychological reasons, people should therefore be told that the measures that have now been initiated are limited in time. And we have to think about day X when the current measures such as school closures end. We have to use the short amount of time that we have now bought."

Read more: French President Macron says 'we are at war' as he orders lockdown

State leaders clash

Meanwhile, the state premier of the German state of Saxony, Michael Kretschmer sees the option of a lockdown as a last resort. He told local newspaper Sächsische Zeitung that nobody wanted a lockdown, as it would massively restrict life. "That's why we are counting on the current measures and see if they have the hoped-for effect in the next 14 days," Kretschmer said.

North Rhine-Westphalia's state premier, Armin Laschet, has warned that the federal and state governments will impose a lockdown if citizens do not comply with the call to keep their distance. "If we can't make the voluntary commitment, then we will be able to make such decisions," the CDU politician told ARD television.

Freiburg,  Leverkusen and Dortmund up the ante

The German cities of Freiburg and Leverkusen have announced lockdown plans of their own.

Freiburg’s two-week ban comes into effect on Saturday, prohibiting citizens entering public places including streets, squares, public green spaces and parks. People should only leave their home for urgent matters, such as food shopping, visits to the doctor, assistance to persons in need of support, and travel to and from work and the placement of children in emergency care. People may stay outside alone, in pairs or with those living in their own household. A minimum distance of 1.5 meters must be kept from all other persons.

Leverkusen has already implemented similar measures, where people are no longer allowed to come together outdoors, with a few exceptions. Meetings of two or more people in the open air are prohibited unless it is for essential activities.

To the point - Corona: How Should We Handle this Crisis?

And Dortmund will now only allow groups of no more than four to mingle. If social activities exceed this number, people will be subject to punishment. Exceptions will be made for families.

John Silk Editor and writer for English news, as well as the Culture and Asia Desks.@JSilk