On 28 October, the federal and state governments agreed on restrictions that were to remain in place for a limited period up to the end of November, in an effort to stem the rapidly rising number of COVID-19 cases in Germany. It was hoped that this could help prevent severe outcomes and deaths, and ensure that the country’s health system was not overwhelmed.
One month later, we can see that the exponential rise in new cases has been halted, but we have not been able to reverse the trend in November. "This is only a partial success and we cannot under any circumstances convince ourselves that it is enough," declared Chancellor Angela Merkel. "The Robert Koch Institute has announced that 410 people have died of COVID-19 in the last 24 hours – a tragic reminder that behind the statistics are individual human lives, some of which are ending far too early," said Angela Merkel.
"We must now make another great effort"
In view of this development, she said, the federal and state governments have two messages for citizens. "Firstly, we thank them. In recent weeks, the vast majority of people have once again shown great solidarity and done their part to comply with the significant restrictions in place." Secondly, the federal and state governments want to be very clear that the current situation does not allow us to lift the restrictions imposed in November.
It is still up to every one of us, said Angela Merkel. "We must now make another great effort. Our patience, solidarity and discipline will be severely tested once again." There are many reasons to believe that 2021 will bring us relief, Angela Merkel said. This hope, particularly the hope of successful vaccines, is perhaps something that will help us to "gradually overcome the pandemic and, until then, to maintain our patience and solidarity".
Measures extended nationwide
The federal and state governments have thus agreed to extend the measures currently in place to stem the pandemic nationwide until 20 December 2020. Masks will be mandatory in more places, also outside shops and in car parks. People are urged to do their Christmas shopping midweek as far as possible. The number of customers inside shops will be limited. Shops with a sales area of up to 800 square metres may admit no more than one customer per 10 square metres of sales area. Concomitant restrictions also apply to larger stores.
The financial support provided by federal and state governments in view of the temporary closures affecting companies, businesses, self-employed individuals, associations and institutions will be continued. The assistance available in November will continue into December and the rules and regulations governing the interim financial help III package will be adapted accordingly.
All citizens are called on to avoid all non-essential contacts and to stay at home as far as possible. They should also avoid all non-essential travel for work or private purposes, especially tourist trips inside and outside Germany; this applies in particular with a view to the skiing season. The German government is asked to work at European level to achieve agreement that ski tourism will not be allowed until 10 January.
By extending the measures already in place, the situation is to be improved significantly nationwide by 20 December 2020. The high numbers of new cases, however, will mean that extensive restrictions will need to be in place after the festive season too. Federal and state governments assume that this will be the case. They will review the situation again before Christmas.
Additional measures needed
To ensure that the spread of the pandemic is stemmed in the medium term over the winter months, the federal and state governments believe that additional special measures are needed. They are to come into effect as of 1 December, and will be implemented by the individual federal states:
- Private meetings with friends, relatives and acquaintances are to be limited to two households, with a maximum of 5 people in total. Children up to the age of 14 will not count towards this number.
- In closed rooms that are accessible to the general public or accessible to visitors or customers, everyone must wear face coverings. It is also mandatory to wear face coverings in all areas frequented by the public in city centres.
- At workplaces and on business premises people must wear face coverings. This does not apply at their actual work station, provided it is possible to retain a distance of 1.5 metres to other people.
- Universities and other higher education institutions must move to online teaching.
These measures will be regularly reviewed within the scope of future meetings between the Chancellor and the state premiers of the federal states.
Special rules apply over the Christmas period
Over the Christmas period, special rules apply regarding contact restrictions, because it is a specially important time for families and for society in general.
- From 23 December 2020 to 1 January 2021, a higher ceiling will apply to the number of people who can meet inside and outside. Up to 10 immediate family members or close friends will be able to meet. Children up to the age of 14 do not count towards this number.
To prevent infection, people are advised to reduce their contacts to an absolute minimum for five to seven days before meeting up with family, especially where elderly relatives are concerned.
- The federal and state governments recommend people not to set off fireworks at New Year. Fireworks will be banned on busy streets and squares.
- Employers are asked to consider whether it is possible to close their premises completely from 23 December 2020 to 1 January 2021, either in the form of a holiday shutdown or to use every opportunity for remote working, to make it possible for as many people as possible to stay at home.
Schools and nurseries to remain open
The top priority remains to keep schools and childcare facilities open. At schools, children not only learn, but come together socially. Federal and state governments thus intend to keep in-person teaching running for as long as possible, while not losing sight of infection trends and the imperatives of health protection.
In regions with an incidence of over 50 new cases per 100,000 over a seven-day period, it is mandatory to wear a mask that covers the mouth and nose in the grounds of all schools, wherever distancing is not possible and (for grades 7 and up) in all classes.
Tighter restrictions to be triggered by higher incidence
Should the seven-day total of new cases be higher than 200 per 100,000 inhabitants, tighter restrictions are to be introduced regarding the way schools deliver instruction as of grade 8 on a school-specific basis, to ensure that distancing, mask wearing and hygiene regulations can be better enforced along with ventilation of classrooms – this could mean hybrid teaching, with some in-person and some online learning, or alternating in-person and online learning.
Regional response to regional situations
To make it possible to respond appropriately to specific regional situations, the federal states have the opportunity to deviate from the stricter rules and regulations – if they achieve an incidence significantly below the level of 50 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants over a seven-day period and if the level remains below the level of 50 for seven consecutive days, with a clear downward trend. This will apply, provided other relevant indicators permit easing. These include the available ICU capacity and the ability of the public health service to cope.
Where rates of infection are particularly high, i.e. over 200 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants over a seven-day period, with no clear indications as to the source of the infections, these measures will be tightened further to bring down infection rates quickly.