Germany adds emergency brake to new easing of lockdown

Merkel and state leaders agree to open shops and schools as outbreak ‘more or less’ under control

Chancellor Angela Merkel and Peter Tschentscher, mayor of Hamburg, arrive for a press conference at the chancellery in Berlin on Wednesday. Photograph: Michael Sohn/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Chancellor Angela Merkel has presented a second wave of measures to loosen Germany’s Covid-19 lockdown, including an emergency brake to reimpose restrictions if new outbreaks occur.

After a heated video conference, Dr Merkel and 16 federal leaders agreed to open all shops and schools as well as most of the hospitality sector, depending on adherence to hygiene rules for disinfection and distancing. People from two separate households will be allowed meet, while one contact person can visit care home residents.

In football, the Bundesliga will restart in the second half of the month, with matches to be played behind closed doors.

“We have the very first phase of the pandemic behind us.” said Dr Merkel at a press conference following a video conference. But she warned that “huge challenges”  lie ahead, as Germans learn to live with the virus while reopening sections of the economy.


“We were led by the thought that it’s better to move ahead and give a perspective,” she added “than not to move forward at all.”

Germany began to roll back lockdown measures on April 20th, a process that has been as unco-ordinated as the imposition of restrictions. Federal states, largely responsible for public health, face different levels of infection. They are also facing pressure from different, dominant industries – from automotive to tourism – to restart an economy already facing its deepest ever recession.

The balancing act between economic interests and public health saw Dr Merkel among the more cautious voices in Wednesday’s talks. Two weeks ago she warned federal states were proceeding “too hastily” with loosening measures. On Wednesday she insisted on an emergency instrument to reimpose restrictions on any county or city that registers more than 50 new, serious Covid-19 cases per 100,000 people in seven consecutive days.

“For me it was decisive . . . to have the means, if something happens and infections rise, to have an emergency measure so we don’t have to close an entire federal state,” said Dr Merkel.

On Tuesday the southern state of Bavaria, badly hit by the outbreak, said it had Covid-19 “under control” – irritating virologists and politicians in other federal states.

Pressed on this, Dr Merkel said the outbreak was “more or less” under control, allowing a more “courageous” strategy with emergency measures. Everything now depended “more than ever”, she added, on people behaving sensibly. Bavarian state premier Markus Söder said the new rules were a “balancing act . . . between allowing freedom while offering security”.

So far Germany has about 166,000 registered Covid-19 cases and about 7,000 deaths, an average of 199 cases per 100,000. Average daily new infections have dropped from 6,000 in April to 900 now.

On Tuesday Prof Lothar Wieler, head of the Robert Koch Institute for disease control, said he assumed “there will be a second and third wave of infection”.

Despite considerable progress, he said the number of deaths was “still high” and Germany was working to increase further testing capacities. Germany is running 142,000 tests daily in 132 laboratories. Of 2.4 million tests in Germany to date, 7.2 per cent have been positive.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin