„Take the next steps wisely“

Federal Chancellor and Heads of Government of the Länder decide „Take the next steps wisely“

Chancellor Angela Merkel and the Heads of Government of the Länder have agreed on the next steps to be taken to address the COVID-19 pandemic. The measures currently in place are to be extended, but parallel to this, restrictions will be gradually eased. Rapid antigen tests are to help efforts to influence the course of the pandemic.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, Berlin’s Governing Mayor Michael Müller and Bavarian Minister-President Markus Söder after the video conference between the Federal Chancellor and the Heads of Government of the Länder

Chancellor Angela Merkel, flanked by Berlin’s Governing Mayor Michael Müller and Bavarian Minister-President Markus Söder, explains the decision taken in conjunction with the Heads of Government of the Länder. 

Foto: Bundesregierung/Bergmann

The Federal Chancellor and the Heads of Government of the Länder have decided to extend the pandemic containment measures currently in place until 28 March 2021. In their decision, they stress that reducing contacts is still the main instrument to combat the pandemic.

Gradual easing offers prospects for planning

Both citizens and business are to be given prospects laying out how and when restrictions can be lifted, that will allow them to plan. Germany is on the threshold of a new phase of the pandemic “that we cannot enter lightly, but that we can embark on with justified hopes” as Chancellor Angela Merkel explained after the consultations. The decision thus lays out steps to gradually lift restrictions, that largely depend on the infection patterns in the individual Länder or regions. “What we have endured together was tough,” said Angela Merkel. But what we did has been effective, she added.

The numbers of new infections are currently rising again, and the percentage of total infections accounted for by the variants of the virus are also increasing. Experience in other countries indicates that circumspection is called for when re-opening public life, say the Federal Chancellor and the Heads of Government of the Länder in the decision. The Chancellor thus also stressed that what is now called for is to “take the next steps wisely”. There are many examples of a dramatic third wave in Europe, and as Angela Merkel pointed out, “We also face this danger.” At this critical phase of the pandemic it is essential to comply fully with the rules and regulations.

Nevertheless the Chancellor underlined the fact that “The spring of 2021 will be different from the spring last year.” That is primarily because we now have two helpers in our fight against the virus. These are firstly the various vaccines and secondly a wide spectrum of tests. 

General practitioners to offer vaccinations as of late March

The Federal Chancellor and the Heads of Government of the Länder point out that the vaccination campaign will gain significant momentum. The number of weekly vaccinations is set to double, as planned. At present about 200,000 people are receiving vaccinations every day.

By the end of March or beginning of April, general practitioners should be able to offer vaccinations. They will then be operating side by side with the vaccination centres and the mobile vaccination teams. The vaccination centres will continue to make appointments strictly in line with the valid priority lists. In medical practices, it will be up to the general practitioners to prioritise to make more flexible use of the facilities. Here too though the vaccination regulations will provide the basis for decisions. Company doctors will be involved in the vaccination campaign to a greater extent in the course of the second quarter.

Fully exploiting the gap between vaccine doses

So that as many citizens as possible can be offered a vaccination, the gap between the first and second vaccine doses should ideally be as long as permissible under the relevant market authorisation. On the basis of the results of studies conducted in the United Kingdom, the Federal Chancellor and the Heads of Government of the Länder expect the Standing Commission on Vaccination to issue a recommendation very soon that the AstraZeneca vaccine also be used for people over the age of 65. 

Regular testing to usher in more normality

The Federal Chancellor and the Heads of Government of the Länder believe that regular testing will be an important element in returning to greater normality. By the start of April, testing strategies are to be implemented gradually – in schools, child daycare and in companies. All asymptomatic citizens will have the opportunity to take one rapid antigen test a week free of charge. 

The Federal and Länder Governments are to set up a joint task force for test logistics to ensure maximum availability and the swift supply of rapid tests including self-testing kits.

More flexibility for private gatherings

As of 8 March regulations for private gatherings are to be eased. Each household will be able to meet up with one other household, up to a maximum of five people, not counting children under the age of 14.

If the seven-day incidence in a region is lower than 35 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants, three households will be able to meet up, with a maximum of 10 people, not counting children up to the age of 14.

If, however, the seven-day incidence in Länder or regions rises to over 100, contact restrictions will be tightened again, with private gatherings again limited to members of the same household and one other person from another household.

Easing of restrictions depends on incidence

Following on from the opening of schools and hairdressers at the start of March, 8 March will see a second stage, with bookshops, flower shops and garden centres allowed to open for a limited number of customers at any given time, and provided they have an approved hygiene concept. This will also apply to providers of personal services that are still closed and to driving and flying schools. Where it is impossible to wear a mask during treatment, as is the case with cosmeticians, for instance, service providers must provide daily evidence that they have taken a rapid antigen test and that the test is negative.

Depending on the number of new infections, the Federal Chancellor and the Heads of Government of the Länder have agreed on three further stages of easing. They cover the opening of shops, cultural facilities and sports facilities.

At their next meeting on 22 March 2021, the Federal Chancellor and the Heads of Government of the Länder will decide on the easing of further restrictions.

Read the full decision of the Federal Chancellor and the Heads of Government of the Länder here.