Coronavirus: Germany opens up again as Merkel hands over to states

Jill Petzinger
Jill Petzinger, Germany Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
From left: Bavaria state premier Markus Soeder, chancellor Angela Merkel and Hamburg mayor Peter Tschentscher at a press conference at the Chancellery in Berlin. (Kay Nietfeld/AFP via Getty Images)

Germany will radically loosen its lockdown measures as chancellor Angela Merkel yields to pressure from the leaders of the country’s 16 states to make their own plans for opening up.

The draft agreement for the meeting on Wednesday between the chancellor and the state premiers says that schools and shops can all reopen, but under strict new hygiene guidelines, including the 1.5-meter social distancing rules.

States can also decide for themselves when they open restaurants, pubs, clubs and gyms, but big events like festivals are banned until 31 August. Already last week, churches, zoos, museums, and playgrounds were given the green light.

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Merkel will formally ask states to implement their own return to normality, but agree to re-impose local lockdowns if they detect more than 50 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants in any city or region within seven days. Wearing face masks in shops and on public transport is mandatory everywhere.

The chancellor, who was praised for her determined handling of the crisis, has seen her power over state leaders wane in the past weeks, as they started to override her wishes for cautious easing of restrictions and announce their own blueprints for lifting lockdown.

While they have the rights to do this in Germany, state leaders also used the easing of restrictions to assert their own political clout, in some cases appearing to snub Merkel’s repeated warnings of a likely second wave of infections if things eased up too soon.

The powerful state of Bavaria, which was super-strict about its lockdown, already announced on Tuesday (5 May) that it would open beer gardens from 18 May and restaurants at the end of the month. Berlin plans to let restaurants open as early as next week.

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The country’s strict lockdown on public and commercial life, in place since 22 March, had already been eased significantly in the past two weeks as efforts to contain the virus and push the transmission rate under 1 yielded results.

To date, Germany has recorded just under 7,000 COVID-19 deaths from 167,000 confirmed cases, significantly lower than the mortality rates from the disease in hard-hit Italy and Spain, or the UK, which has now recorded nearly 30,000 deaths, the highest in Europe.