After tough negotiations, the federal and state governments have decided to extend the corona lockdown and take new measures. The deliberations were delayed – there was disagreement on one topic.
In the beginning it was quick. The federal and state governments very quickly reached an early agreement on Tuesday to extend the corona-related lockdown to February 14th (All new resolutions here). But then the quick agreement was over. Especially when it comes to schools, Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) and the Prime Ministers get caught.
When Merkel stepped in front of the cameras after more than seven hours of deliberations, the federal and state governments had pulled themselves together, albeit with great effort. “It took a long time, I think it was worth it,” said the Chancellor. The chairman of the Prime Minister’s Conference, Berlin’s Governing Mayor Michael Müller (SPD), summed up: “We can continue to achieve a lot together.” And Bavaria’s Prime Minister Markus Söder (CSU) said it might have been “maybe a little more” – but a lot has been achieved. They wrestled “passionately,” all three confirmed.
Great concern about mutations
The situation is complicated: On the one hand, in view of the lower corona numbers, people’s desire for relaxation, especially in schools and daycare centers, is growing. On the other hand, there are great concerns about the British virus variant. In the areas of origin of mutations such as Great Britain, you have to be particularly strict with regard to entry, stressed Merkel in the evening. With high-risk areas like the Czech Republic, you have to coordinate and agree on test strategies. “And if countries should go completely different ways, which I don’t see at the moment, but that can also be, then you have to be ready to the extreme and say: Then we have to introduce border controls again.”
Driven by concerns about the virus mutation, the federal-state group agreed very quickly on Tuesday: The lockdown will be extended again to February 14 – but only tightened again in a few places.
“We also have to say that Christmas and New Year’s Eve did not throw us back,” said Merkel. But she refers to the situation in Great Britain – it is better to tighten it further than that the hospitals are soon overcrowded. “This time, which we now have until February 14th, we have to use now,” said Merkel. To this end, she also wants to better staff health authorities so that the contacts can be tracked again.
Heavy discussions about schools and daycare centers
Biggest point of contention in the negotiations: schools and kindergartens. The circuit of the Prime Ministers was even briefly interrupted for a crisis phone call between Merkel, Vice Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Prime Ministers Müller and Söder on the subject.
Since mid-December, most of the more than 40,000 schools and almost 58,000 daycare centers in Germany have either been completely closed except for emergency care or parents have been asked to leave their offspring at home. The federal and state governments have agreed on exceptions for final classes that are about to take the exams.
As Merkel announced at the press conference, schools are to remain “generally” closed until mid-February. The compulsory attendance will be suspended; the same procedure should be followed in daycare centers. Merkel justified the maintenance of the measures by stating that there were indications that the virus mutation “B.1.1.7” was also spreading more widely among children and adolescents than was the case with the previously known virus.
Obviously, the word “fundamentally” does not preclude countries from pulling out. Baden-Württemberg’s Prime Minister Winfried Kretschmann (Greens) immediately announced in the evening that elementary schools and daycare centers would probably be gradually reopening from February 1, but with the restriction: “if the infection situation permits”.
Söder warns of the “yo-yo effect”
Berlin’s governing mayor Michael Müller (SPD) emphasized at the press conference: “Most schools are closed.” The state governments have already proceeded very restrictively, responsibly and based on the number of cases when schools were opened. The fact that the prime ministerial group in the “sensitive area” agreed on another week-long closure means a lot. It now needs a joint effort like the first lockdown in spring and broad solidarity, said Müller.
Bavaria’s Prime Minister Markus Söder emphasized: There is currently a “very mixed mood in Germany”. The measures adopted worked, that was good news. But: The mutations force further measures: “It would be a serious mistake to stop now. Because then we would have a yo-yo effect.” “Therapy should not be terminated prematurely,” said Söder. He also described the further closure of schools as a “most controversial point”. With regard to the virus mutations, however, “caution, the better way” remains.
Merkel: vaccination has “the greatest strategic importance”
Söder like Müller also urged stable information about the delivery of the corona vaccines from the Federal Ministry of Health at the press conference. Recently there had been repeated delays. “We have urgently asked that we be informed in good time when we can expect which deliveries,” said Müller.
Söder took the federal government in protection, but also insisted: The vaccine production in Germany must be increased. Merkel pointed out that one had limited influence on the manufacturers and emphasized that one was making an effort: The vaccination was “a high logistical challenge with the greatest strategic importance”.