Berlin Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) and the prime ministers negotiated the extension of the lockdown for more than eight hours. During the video conference there should have been a violent argument, mainly because of the schools and daycare centers. And they obviously couldn’t really resolve the conflict.
The Chancellor said that the number of infections would decrease, but because of the virus mutation, further measures were necessary. “So it’s about prevention,” said Merkel. Because the mutated virus could “explosively increase” the number of infections, as seen in Great Britain and Ireland.
While the lockdown extension was not fundamentally controversial, the Chancellor and Prime Minister fought bitterly about individual measures in the video link. A real agreement was not reached.
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At least the controversial points in the decision remained vague. And at the press conference in the Chancellery, too, a lot did not become clearer, especially Merkel and Müller seemed to interpret the decision differently.
This applies above all to the big controversial question of how to proceed with daycare centers and schools. This is the “most controversial point,” said Söder. Merkel said that a compromise had been found “after a tough struggle”. But what that means is unclear.
The previous resolution will be extended until February 14, the paper says. “After that, the schools will remain closed or the mandatory attendance will be suspended.” “A restrictive implementation” is necessary. The same applies to daycare centers.
Merkel especially emphasized the restrictive implementation. Because some states had recently relaxed, in Lower Saxony, for example, primary schools are open with restrictions. In Berlin and some other federal states there is a relatively generous emergency care in daycare centers.
Merkel is already going too far. The Chancellery has been on a tough course for weeks when it comes to closing daycare centers and schools. Many countries, on the other hand, want to at least partially open primary schools because digital distance teaching is not working properly and because they fear serious harm to children. The child protection association and some paediatricians also warn against it.
Session had to be interrupted
Merkel and Schleswig-Holstein’s Prime Minister Manuela Schwesig (SPD) should therefore have clashed violently in the switch. Schwesig has accused the Chancellor of not having enough empathy for the concerns of the children. Merkel is said to have countered that she “does not allow herself to be attached” to “tormenting children”. In view of the dispute, the deliberations were interrupted.
How much the agreement is now worth is questionable. While Merkel insists on the “restrictive implementation”, the federal states see the word “in principle” as an opportunity to deviate from the decision. Baden-Württemberg’s Prime Minister Winfried Kretschmann (Greens) announced during the press conference that the primary schools would be gradually opened from February 1st.
Berlin’s mayor Müller took his colleagues under protection. The “vast majority of schools” are closed. And where some countries would deviate due to low infection rates, they “deal with it responsibly”. And anyway: dropping out of classroom teaching for eight weeks is “not an easy decision”. That makes it clear that one is acting decisively.
Söder spoke of a “collateral challenge” that the closure of daycare centers and schools would bring with it. The resolution also states that closed schools and childcare facilities will “not remain without negative consequences for the educational biographies and social participation of children and young people” over a longer period of time. But since there are “indications” that the mutated virus is spreading more widely among children and adolescents, they are necessary.
The Bavarian Prime Minister made an “education promise”. Opportunities should be sought to compensate for the loss of lessons. Merkel did not want to comment on this. That is a matter for the Prime Ministers, they would find good solutions, said the Chancellor.
Home office should be used more
Since further restrictions in the private sector are hardly possible, the heads of government are now also focusing more closely on the world of work. “We are now taking legal action here,” said Merkel.
Labor Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) has already submitted a draft for a home office regulation. It stipulates that employers must offer employees with office and comparable activities to work from home if there are no operational reasons to the contrary. “This will reduce contacts at the workplace, but also on the way to work,” says the decision paper. You don’t just look at the private sector and cultural and leisure life, but also at other areas, said Müller.
In companies where home office is not possible, stricter distance and hygiene rules apply. If several employees work in one room, ten square meters of space must be available for each person, according to the draft ordinance that is available to the Handelsblatt. Where distances cannot be maintained, employers are obliged to provide medical masks.
In companies where more than 50 employees regularly come together and distances cannot be kept, the workforce should do a quick test every week. However, this only applies in corona hotspots with incidence values above 200.
In addition, the more protective FFP2 masks or surgical masks must be worn on buses and trains as well as when shopping, as the decision states. “If the virus becomes more dangerous, the mask has to get better,” said Söder.
The heads of government from the federal and state levels have not reached an agreement on restrictions on local public transport. It was discussed, for example, to allow only a third of the permitted number of passengers on buses and trains. However, companies are asked to use flexible working hours wherever possible in such a way that the number of passengers in rush hour traffic is as much as possible equalized.
Criticism from business associations and the opposition
The Federation of German Employers’ Associations (BDA) said the extended restrictions were a heavy burden on people. All “appropriate and proportionate parts” of the decision would be supported by employers. In some places, however, one can get the impression that “some people have become somewhat alienated from reality in their companies”. This applies above all to the planned new home office bureaucracy.
The deputy chairman of the FDP parliamentary group, Katja Suding, criticized the extension of the school closings. “The long-term consequences of even longer closed schools will be devastating,” warned Suding. For weeks, parents have been largely on their own when doing homeschooling, in addition to home office and housework, and for weeks children have been lacking social contact with their teachers and classmates.
Handicrafts president Hans Peter Wollseifer appealed to all business owners and employees to contribute to further reducing the risk of infection with their behavior in the professional and private environment. “In order to protect the companies and the workplaces there, it is imperative to strictly adhere to the necessary hygiene and distance specifications and to enable home office wherever the processes allow,” said Wollseifer.
The now envisaged obligation to work from home with the corresponding sanctions is excessive and will bring additional bureaucracy and burdens to businesses and companies in these difficult times.
The food-pleasure-restaurants union (NGG) especially points out the consequences of the extended lockdown for the hospitality industry. “For many hotels, guesthouses, restaurants, bars, pubs and even caterers and company canteens, it has long been a matter of sheer survival,” said NGG boss Guido Zeitler. Even large hotel companies could not last long without help.
The promised eased access and higher funding amounts for Corona aid are “extremely important to secure jobs,” said Zeitler. “Of course, they can only be paid to companies that keep their employees on short-time and do not put them on the street.”
More: Home office regulation provides for rapid antigen tests for those who have to work in the office