German lockdown was too harsh says health minister

Jens Spahn’s comments trigger demands for an inquiry into early pandemic decisions

Germany should not have closed shops and hairdressers in the coronavirus lockdown, its health minister has admitted, triggering demands for an inquiry into decisions taken early on in the pandemic.

Federal health minister Jens Spahn’s admission that Berlin’s lockdown was too harsh has surprised many and infuriated those hit hardest by the shutdown. The remarks will be grist to the mill of the 40,000 people who demonstrated in Berlin at the weekend against ongoing Covid-19 restrictions as overblown.

“With the knowledge of today, I can tell you no hairdressers would have to close and no shops,” he said. “That will not happen again. We won’t need visitor bans in care homes, either.”

He said Germany could avoid a second lockdown because people had “learned in the last months how to protect ourselves”, using masks instead of closing shops and services.


Mr Spahn made his remarks on a tour of western Germany where he has been heckled at almost every stop by critics of the Merkel administration’s coronavirus policies, often following him around from town to town. At one stop Mr Spahn, who is married to a man, was spat on and called a “gay pig”.

The health minister said the pandemic restrictions, which began in mid-March, were never an “absolute truth” and always a “balancing between health protection, security, everyday life and freedom”.

His comments could have far-reaching legal and political consequences. During a video conference last week, chancellor Angela Merkel said there was “no dispute that the thing is tricky”.

Lockdown rules

On Wednesday an 80-year-old woman from Würzburg, northern Bavaria, told the Bild tabloid how lockdown rules meant she was unable to hold her husband’s hand when he died in a care home on April 9th.

“When I hear now that I could have visited, the mourning comes over me again,” she said. “It was so hard because my husband kept demanding to see me.”

As the pandemic stretches into the autumn, the daily infection rate in Germany is down from over 6,000 at the peak to some 1,200 today. No district or county has an infection rate above the critical 10 per 100,000 population, above which tighter lockdown measures apply.

On Wednesday the German leader met US entrepreneur Elon Musk in Berlin. He is in town for the topping-out ceremony of a new Tesla factory east of the capital. Ahead of that, he discussed with Dr Merkel his plan for a global network of automated labs to produce distribute Covid-19 vaccines, when available.

Meanwhile leading German virologist, Dr Christian Drosten, a special adviser on the pandemic to Dr Merkel, has said it should possible to reduce the quarantine period for returning travellers from 14 to five days.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin