The German government is expected to agree later today on controversial changes to a national infections control law that would hand Berlin more centralised power to impose sweeping measures to curb the raging coronavirus pandemic.
Agence France-Presse is teeing up the developments this morning, reporting that the proposed changes, criticised by some states, could give Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government the power to impose night-time curfews and close schools in areas with high infection rates.
In a draft seen by AFP over the weekend, the measures included a night-time curfew between 9pm and 5am, the closing of non-essential shops and restricting private gatherings to five people from two households.
The move aims to end a political tug-of-war between the federal government and powerful regions over coronavirus measures, as Germany remains gripped by a dangerous third wave of the pandemic which is putting increased strain on the country’s health system.
Currently coronavirus measures are decided on in consultation with Berlin and – in theory – implemented by the federal states. Yet in many cases, regional leaders have failed to put in place shutdown measures to which they agreed with Merkel, with some even allowing shops and cinemas to reopen.
Most notably, some states have not followed through on an agreement to row back on the easing of measures in areas where the seven-day incidence rate exceeds 100 new infections per 100,000 people. The adjusted law set to pass cabinet on Tuesday would give Berlin the power to enforce this “emergency brake”.
At a press conference yesterday, Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said the new law aimed to create “uniform national” rules. “The aim is to bring the country as quickly as possible to a situation with much lower infection rates at which we can responsibly ease restrictions with testing,” he said.
The controversial move away from Germany’s strict federal structures comes as Europe’s biggest economy struggles to contain rising infection rates. “The numbers are too high at the moment. The pressure on our intensive care stations is growing and we have to say that this third wave is perhaps the hardest one to break,” said Merkel.
Health authorities warned last week that hospitals could become overwhelmed without tougher national measures. “If we don’t go into lockdown, a lot of people will lose their lives,” said Lothar Wieler, head of the Robert Koch Institute infectious disease agency.
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