Chancellor Angela Merkel has consulted with the state premiers of Germany’s federal states as the numbers of new cases surge. "In everything we discussed and decided today," said the Chancellor, all parties were acutely aware of all the people watching the talks with high expectations, but also with concern.
The speed at which the virus is spreading makes the current situation extremely serious, stressed Chancellor Angela Merkel, following the meeting. "We are seeing an exponential rise in numbers, with the number of cases doubling in an ever shorter time." This applies to the number of people becoming infected, and to the number of patients in intensive care and on ventilators.
Avoiding a health emergency
"If the virus continues to spread at this rate, our health system will be pushed to its limits within weeks," warned the Chancellor. For this reason it is absolutely clear, she added, "We must act, and we must act now!" We must act in order to prevent an acute national health emergency. And for that, we must decide on measures."
The most important tool to stem a pandemic is to trace the contacts of those who have become infected. In many places, this tool is no longer available, explained Angela Merkel. Chains of transmission can no longer be broken. That means we are losing control of the virus.
Concerted national effort needed
Germany managed to push down the numbers of cases in spring, said Angela Merkel, "primarily because people acted sensibly and showed solidarity". "We know now that we must further restrict person-to-person contacts and thus reduce the risk of becoming infected. And that is why we now need a concerted national effort in the month of November."
The federal and state governments, she announced, have now adopted rigorous measures that will apply for the whole of Germany. They kept two priorities in mind: firstly, the need to keep economic life going and secondly, the need to keep schools and nurseries open. Conversely, this means adopting rigorous restrictions on personal contacts and recreational activities.
Chain of transmission now unclear in 75 per cent of cases
Angela Merkel stressed that we have now reached a point where we can no longer establish where 75 per cent of new cases came from. This means that it is no longer possible to determine which sectors are fuelling the spread of the pandemic, and which aren’t. This is why the decision was taken to restrict personal contacts. Significant restrictions will also be imposed on recreational activities. Restaurants, cafés and similar establishments will have to close in November. Exceptional financial assistance will be available for businesses and institutions hit by temporary closures.
"Today is a difficult day – also for political decision-makers, because we are all too aware what we are expecting of people," stressed Angela Merkel. The goal is to find a way of preventing a national health emergency on the one hand, while upholding economic life as far as possible. In this, she expressed her gratitude that the state premiers and the federal government had agreed on a decision today. "Although the incidence varies widely from one federal state to another, everybody is now on board, and I see that as very good news."
The decisions in detail
On 2 November, additional measures will enter into force nationwide. They will be in place for a limited period until the end of November. After a period of two weeks, the Chancellor and the state premiers of the federal states will consult again, and make any necessary corrections. The following were some of the points agreed by the federal and state governments:
- The most important measure for the time to come will be social distancing and reducing contacts. Everyone is advised to limit contact with people other than those living in the same household to the absolute minimum necessary.
- With immediate effect, people may only go out with members of their own household and of one further household, up to a maximum of ten people in either case (contact restrictions).
- People are asked to generally refrain from non-essential travel for personal reasons and from visiting people, including relatives. Accommodation in Germany will now only be provided for necessary and explicitly non-tourism purposes.
- Institutions and facilities classified as recreational will be closed. These include theatres, cinemas, amusement parks, amusement arcades, brothels, gyms and similar facilities, recreational and amateur sport in all public and private sports venues, with the exception of individual sport engaged in alone, in pairs or with your own household.
- Schools and nurseries will remain open. The federal states will adopt the public health measures they consider necessary.
- Events for the purposes of entertainment are prohibited. Professional sports events may only take place without spectators.
- Restaurants and cafés, as well as bars, clubs, discotheques, pubs and similar establishments will be closed. Exceptions are permitted for the delivery and collection of food that can be taken away and consumed at home, and for the operation of canteens.
- Businesses offering personal care services, such as beauticians and masseurs, will be closed. Necessary medical treatments, such as physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy, as well as podiatry and chiropody, will still be permitted. Hairdressers may remain open subject to the present hygiene and distancing conditions.
- Wholesalers and retail shops will remain open, subject to certain conditions.
- The federal government will make available exceptional financial assistance to businesses, self-employed people, associations and institutions subject to the temporary closures, in order to compensate them for financial loss.
- The federal government will extend the assistance measures already in place for businesses and improve the terms for the worst affected business sectors (interim financial assistance III). This applies, for instance, to the cultural sector and event organisers, as well as own-account workers.
- Even during the pandemic, we want to ensure safe working practices to the greatest extent possible in industry, skilled crafts and trades, and medium-sized enterprises. Employers have a particular responsibility to protect their staff from infection. In view of the high infection rate, the federal and state governments urgently appeal to companies to enable staff to work from home or remotely, wherever this is feasible.
- Regulations designed to protect particularly vulnerable groups must not result in their total social isolation.
- The federal and state governments will do more to inform the public about the corona rules now in force and will try to make them easier to understand by making them as uniform as possible. However, they will also enhance enforcement of the measures across the board.
- The federal and state governments are aware of the fact that these are particularly radical measures, but they are necessary and they are proportionate to protect the health of the population, which is a legally protected right, and to avert even more extensive economic damage that would result should the pandemic spread uncontrolled.