Germany eases restrictions further, with an emergency brake

Chancellor Angela Merkel at the cabinet meeting before meeting state leaders on 6 May.

All shops in Germany are allowed to reopen, and two households are allowed to meet again as the country starts easing coronavirus measures. States will have more authority in loosening restrictions, but at the same time, they have agreed on an emergency brake in case the number of infections increases locally. EURACTIV Germany reports.

After negotiations with the state premiers, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that contact restrictions in Germany would be extended until 5 June, albeit in a more relaxed form, according to the decision submitted to EURACTIV Germany.

“We can afford a bit of courage,” Merkel said with regard to the figures presented by the Robert Koch Institute. The reproduction factor is constantly below 1, meaning that an infected person infects fewer than one other person.

Merkel was particularly pleased that the feared wave of new infections as a result of the first round of easing did not occur. Based on these successes, she and state leaders have now agreed on a number of loosening measures in the social, economic and sports sectors.

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Federalism with an emergency brake

At the same time, however, the leaders agreed to an “emergency brake.” Should the daily infection rate in one part of Germany exceed 50 diagnoses per 100,000 inhabitants over a seven day period, the restrictions could be tightened again there.

The concrete implementation of the relaxation is the responsibility of the federal state, and therefore there will be regional and timing differences, emphasised Peter Tschentscher (SPD), the Lord Mayor of Hamburg. This is precisely why the emergency brake is so important – because it allows for regionally adapted measures, said Bavarian leader Markus Söder (CSU).

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Shopping frenzy and double dates

All shops are allowed to reopen, including those larger than 800 square metres. However, only a certain number of customers and sales staff are allowed to be inside at the same time. In shops and public transport, protective face mask remain obligatory and this could be extended to other areas. The states themselves are to decide on reopening food service.

The restrictions on social contacts are also being relaxed. Up to now, people could only go out in public with members of their household, plus one other person. The latter will be extended to an entire household, so that, for example, two families or members of two different shared flats may meet.

However, the minimum distance of 1.5 metres between the people in the other household still applies.

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Fixed visitors in retirement homes

The social situation of the residents of retirement and nursing homes is somewhat different, as visits are limited. To make everyday life easier for them too, they are now allowed to designate a person who may visit them regularly. Although risk groups still require special protection, “we cannot leave an entire generation without social contacts,” said Merkel.

Athletes are once again allowed to make greater use of the spring weather. Popular and recreational sports are allowed again, but the 1.5-metre minimum distance must be observed. The Bundesliga will also be allowed to resume from mid-May, although with empty stands.

Tracing app becomes open source

A smartphone app for tracking coronavirus infection chains (“contact tracing”) is also mentioned in the decision. Its use should be voluntary and the source code should be made public. This is a response to the demand by data-protection organisations.

For the time being, large events remain prohibited until at least 31 August.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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