Berlin Three days before the next meeting of the country heads, there are many indications that the partial lockdown will be extended. “As things stand, it cannot be assumed that the measures adopted to contain the pandemic can currently be relaxed,” said Lower Saxony’s Prime Minister Stephan Weil (SPD) to the Handelsblatt.
Finance Minister Olaf Scholz (SPD) and CSU boss Markus Söder also pleaded for an extension of the contact restrictions until shortly before Christmas – in order to be able to relax them then. The heads of government of Rhineland-Palatinate, Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein argued similarly.
The North Rhine-Westphalian Prime Minister Armin Laschet (CDU) even called for a tightening: families should only be allowed to meet with two other people from another household.
In order to be able to finance further Corona aid, Scholz is planning for the next year with far more debts than previously known: As the Handelsblatt learned from government circles, the Finance Minister wants to take on around 160 billion euros in new debt in 2021 – instead of the around 96 billion euros previously planned .
The numbers show how expensive it is to cope with the corona crisis. Compared to the budget draft by Federal Finance Minister Scholz at the end of September, the additional spending plans add up to around 70 billion euros.
This results from the so-called adjustment proposal of the Federal Ministry of Finance for the meeting of the budget committee on November 26th, which the Handelsblatt already has and which the Reuters news agency reported on. Following the meeting, the budget for 2021 is to be finalized.
According to the paper, the additional expenditure results on the one hand from measures to cope with the corona pandemic. More money is planned primarily for economic aid, but also to support hospitals and to procure vaccines.
On the other hand, expenses planned for 2020 would be postponed to the next year. The new debt of 218 billion euros approved for 2020 is expected to be far from being exhausted, it said.
40 billion euros for companies
For 2021, the finance minister is now planning almost 40 billion euros for entrepreneurs alone who are suffering from the lockdown. This includes an additional “lockdown buffer”. This shows that Scholz is apparently already assuming that the Corona bridging aid will have to be extended beyond November 2020.
The precautionary title for Corona-related measures has been increased by ten billion euros. Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) is also to receive an additional two billion for extended compensation payments to hospitals, 2.5 billion for the discounted delivery of protective masks and 2.7 billion for the purchase of vaccines.
On 262 pages, the house of Federal Minister of Finance Scholz also quantified adjustments for all other ministries. For example, the proposal also provides for six billion euros in equity for the railway, which is planned for this year but has not been paid out.
At the Ministry of Economics, in turn, a future fund with one billion euros is planned as a result of the auto summit. According to the current plan, the Federal Foreign Office will receive around 170 million euros more for humanitarian aid and the Ministry of Labor 750 million euros more for labor market expenditures such as Hartz IV.
FDP vice parliamentary group leader Christian Dürr accused the coalition of this planning, the draft represented a lot of bureaucracy and ever higher debts. “That’s the opposite of what we need now,” he said. “We cannot keep the fourth largest economy in the world running permanently with debt.”
Merz criticizes compensation payments
The candidate for the CDU party chairmanship, Friedrich Merz, had previously criticized that it was nonsense to link compensation payments for companies only to the lost sales. “That has to be reworked,” he told the “Tagesspiegel”.
The federal government had promised grants, for example, for restaurants and self-employed people such as artists who are affected by officially ordered closings. They should be up to 75 percent of the average turnover in November 2019.
“Of course you have to help those affected, without question. However, sales are the most fuzzy yardstick for compensation or loss of earnings, ”said Merz. “Take a self-employed concert organizer, for example: They make maybe five percent profit on sales, but now get reimbursed 75 percent of monthly sales. That is completely beyond any damage he suffers. “
Whether the enormous increase in the federal budget planned by Scholz is actually necessary depends largely on the further course of the pandemic and the lockdown.
Before their meeting with the Chancellor on Wednesday, a number of prime ministers had already spoken out in favor of extending the November lockdown at least until shortly before Christmas. “Relief is only realistic if the numbers change permanently,” said Lower Saxony’s Prime Minister Weil the Handelsblatt.
Saxony’s Prime Minister Michael Kretschmer (CDU) announced long-term regulations: On the one hand, they were “agreed that we only want and are allowed to make those restrictions that are really appropriate”.
At the same time, however, the heads of government wanted “to ensure that we do not now look at a period of 14 days, for example, but really think through to March and say what the support should look like for companies, for restaurateurs for the hotel industry and under what circumstances can we then speak of easing again, ”he told Handelsblatt. “So what are the magnitudes of infected people where we can say: Now we’re starting again with culture and gastronomy.”
Christmas is the central hope value
If an extension of the contact restriction is necessary, so was heard from the country chiefs at the weekend, then it should – if at all possible – be relaxed over Christmas.
Söder tied this to a clear easing of the situation: the lockdown must “apply at least until we have reached the incidence value of 50 again,” he said. It is currently around 140 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants within seven days. The number of new infections had not increased significantly recently – but it also did not decrease significantly.
Family celebrations under the Christmas tree are currently the main hope. “Better a longer lockdown now than a complete exit restriction over Christmas,” said Söder. For New Year’s Eve, the Bavarian proposes a ban on firecrackers in larger places – but does not want to ban fireworks in general.
The Chancellor had already pushed for an extension and tightening at the ultimately unsuccessful meeting of the heads of government last week. Angela Merkel (CDU) then spoke of “lost time”.
In view of the considerations of possibly even tightening the lockdown until the festival, the trade in particular is going into forward defense: The retail trade and the CDU Economic Council are calling for the Sunday opening to be released.
“Also to equalize the Christmas business, the trade should be given the opportunity to open on Sundays during Advent,” said the managing director of the German Trade Association (HDE), Stefan Genth, the Handelsblatt. “That would also be more relaxed for customers, who would be able to comply with the Corona distance rules even better if the customer flows were spread over seven days.”
The CDU Economic Council proposes various measures to strengthen retail trade in the Corona period, including easing shop opening times during Advent and in January 2021. The Economic Council also advocates extending the so-called November aid to companies in the stationary trade who suffered a drop in sales of more than 70 percent during the period of the lockdown measures.
Violent dispute about school closings
“The retail trade is one of the most important taxpayers in cities and communities,” says the CDU Economic Council paper. In addition, with a good three million employees, it is one of the largest employers in Germany and has a defining influence on the cityscape. “If trade dies, our inner cities die,” said the Secretary General of the Economic Council, Wolfgang Steiger, to the Handelsblatt.
According to a survey by the DIHK, the pandemic is causing a drop in demand in more than half of German companies. “Reduced investment budgets are currently depressing demand for German products in many regions of the world,” the survey of 13,000 companies revealed.
Domestically, the partial lockdown has led to further losses in demand in a number of industries. “Overall, more than two thirds of companies in Germany expect a decline in sales in 2020.”
The question of whether schools should at least partially close is highly controversial – also because it is unclear how much they contribute to the infection process. The ministers of education recently renewed their stance that normal lessons should continue as long as possible.
For the upper level and vocational schools, however, they are now considering hybrid lessons, at least in corona hotspots. The Chancellery had urged that more classes be divided in schools in order to reduce the risk of infection. That is impossible because of the lack of teachers, it is said in the countries.
Health Minister Jens Spahn suggested that the whole class be quarantined if infected. So far, this has not been the case or has only been the case with people sitting next to them. He told the editorial network in Germany that after negative quick tests on the fifth day, the students could go back to school.
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