Germany seeks to lock down problem areas in bid to avoid second wave

By Rachel More and Stefan Kruse, dpa

The German government is pushing for strict lockdowns in areas where localized coronavirus outbreaks flare up, with state health ministers agreeing to a rough framework on Thursday following fierce debate over the issue.

The move, backed by Chancellor Angela Merkel, is designed to prevent a second wave of infections after broadly successful efforts to bring the spread under control, but it has pitted her federal government against political leaders at state level.

However, all 16 state health ministers have agreed with the government that targeted, localized lockdowns could be “a suitable method” for containing local outbreaks in serious cases, according to a document seen by dpa.

The state ministers recommend that their regional governments drastically restrict freedoms in areas that emerge as new coronavirus epicentres, while acknowledging that “completely shutting off entire districts in Berlin or Hamburg is not possible.”

“Faster, more small-scale, more precise – this is what we want to agree upon today,” Helge Braun, Merkel’s chief of staff, told the ZDF broadcaster.

The pandemic has repeatedly put a strain on Germany’s federal system, as the country’s 16 states have a high degree of autonomy in responding to the crisis.

The debate comes as Germany’s largest slaughterhouse and meat-packing plant resumed production on Thursday, after a coronavirus outbreak among its workers forced the re-introduction of sweeping restrictions for hundreds of thousands of people in the region.

Production was halted in mid-June after around 1,400 employees at the Toennies plant, located in the district of Guetersloh in the western state of North Rhine Westphalia, were found to have caught the novel coronavirus.

School and business closures snapped back into place temporarily in Guetersloh and neighbouring Warendorf, and the state government tightened restrictions on gatherings in order to prevent the virus from spreading to the broader population.

On Thursday, Germany’s official caseload surpassed 200,000, according to figures released by the Robert Koch Institute for disease control.

Over 9,000 people are known to have died after contracting the virus, which can cause the Covid-19 lung disease, the government agency said.

The Robert Koch Institute confirmed 200,260 cases of infection since the virus was first registered in Germany, an increase of 534 on the previous day.

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