Frayed nerves in Germany as political unity over Covid-19 fragments

Regions increasingly diverge on rules ahead of Christmas as ‘coronabsurdities’ mount

German chancellor Angela Merkel attends a virtual meeting. Photograph: Annegret Hilse/Pool/EPA

German chancellor Angela Merkel attends a virtual meeting. Photograph: Annegret Hilse/Pool/EPA

 

Germany’s battle to drive down new Covid-19 infections has stalled, with growing fragmentation of restrictions and rows between Berlin and state capitals over funding emergency payments.

Last week Germany’s 16 federal states agreed to maintain – and tighten slightly – so-called “lockdown lite” measures ahead of a a 10-day loosening from December 21st to allow Christmas family gatherings.

Germany’s northern state of Schleswig-Holstein plans to loosen the rules before December 21st, while the city state of Berlin, along with other regions, has decided to keep existing rules in place, limiting Christmas gatherings to a maximum of two households and five people.

Germany is reporting 123,000 new cases over a seven-day period.

The alarm was sounded on Monday in the German capital, where an incidence rate of 201 per 100,000 over seven days means a quarter of all intensive care beds are now Covid-19 cases – and just 10 per cent of intensive care capacity remains.

“The numbers are falling, just not quickly enough,” said Armin Laschet, minister president of the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

He is one of the regional leaders who have ignored chancellor Angela Merkel’s calls for hotels and restaurants to remain closed over the holiday season. Mr Laschet and his counterparts in Lower Saxony and two other states have decided to allow hotels to reopen before Christmas. One reason, said an official from Hamburg, is to avoid visiting parents being forced to stay with their adult children and grandchildren, or vice versa.

Merkel hits out

Dr Merkel hit out at regional leaders’ solo runs on hotels during a Monday morning video conference of her ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

“It’s not possible to control whether it’s just people visiting nearby relations in hotels,” she told the CDU frontbench.

Meanwhile her administration, which defers to federal states in many public health competencies, has infuriated regional leaders with plans to shift on to them a greater financial burden for €30 billion emergency pandemic payments.

“By January we need to have worked out more targeted payments,” said Helge Braun, the chancellor’s chief of staff. “Mastering the pandemic is a task for all levels of state, thus the costs have to be shared at all levels.”

The shifting, fragmenting Covid-19 measures mean the northeastern state of Mecklenburg Vorpommern is closing its doors – including the popular Baltic coastline – to visitors while a second popular Christmas destination– Gran Canaria – is taking all comers, with no quarantine restrictions.

Bavaria has imposed a quarantine for skiers returning from neighbouring Austria – even day-trippers – but not from slopes in the neighbouring German state of Thuringia, despite an average infection rate of more than 600 cases per 100,000 over seven days – more than twice that of Austria’s.

‘Coronabsurdities’

Germany’s influential Bild tabloid has made a list of what it calls Coronabsurdities.

In the busy travel holiday period, Germany’s Deutsche Bahn train company says it will only sell reservations for seats diagonally opposite – but not block off the other seats for travellers.

No one could tell the newspaper either why masks are obligatory for all in supermarket car parks but not at petrol pumps.

Amid growing public confusion over what is allowed and why, North Rhine-Westaphlia’s leader, Mr Laschet, is under growing political pressure.

According to opposition politicians in the state parliament in Düsseldorf, Mr Laschet’s fashion-blogger son helped garment company Van Laack secure a contract for millions of masks and protective gear for police and hospitals.

Any whiff of scandal could weigh on Mr Laschet’s hopes of inheriting the leadership of the ruling Christian Democratic Union.