Merkel urges German states to act together in combatting pandemic

By Rachel Bossmayer, Joerg Blank and Ruppert Mayr, dpa

Chancellor Angela Merkel urged the governments of Germany’s 16 states to act together to contain the coronavirus pandemic after a meeting with state premiers in Berlin on Wednesday.

“Do we wish to take a courageous step, or do we want to meet week by week as in the spring?” was the question posed by the chancellor, said participants at the meeting.

The leaders decided to place a limit of 10 participants and two households on private events held in those parts of Germany designated as coronavirus hotspots, dpa learned after the meeting.

They also decided to order pubs and restaurants in these hotspots to close by 11 pm. The new rules will apply in regions with more than 50 new infections per 100,000 residents within a week.

In regions where the rate of new infections has risen to 35 per 100,000 residents over a week, the obligation to wear a mask is to be expanded in areas where people gather together for longer periods.

Ahead of the conference, government spokesman Steffen Seibert indicated that negotiations between the federal government and the states, which run health policy independently, would be problematic.

The federal government is seeking a common approach as winter approaches and the number of infections and hospitalizations rises in many regions and major cities.

There are concerns that the test-and-trace policy being pursued could collapse if the number of infections rises too sharply.

Merkel’s government is pushing for stricter mask rules and closing the hospitality sector in areas with high case numbers.

Bavarian premier Markus Soeder, who has consistently backed Merkel in urging a cautious approach, called for rapid and unified action.

“If it takes off, things will go very quickly. We will then be on the rapidly rising graph again,” he warned.

Raising the possibility that the ministers would have to meet again in 10 days, Soeder urged his fellow premiers to come up with a common system. “Politicians in other countries who have changed course and opened up too early have fundamentally been punished,” he said.

The premier of North Rhine Westphalia, Armin Laschet, who has consistently taken a contrary line, expressed scepticism on restricting private celebrations.

“For me, this is too early and too strict,” he was quoted as saying.

By contrast, Schleswig-Holstein premier Daniel Guenther said he saw private events as the main spreaders of the virus.

Earlier, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for disease control said
Germany’s daily coronavirus caseload had surpassed 5,000 for the first time since the height of the pandemic in April.

Although Germany has been lauded for its handling of the crisis, the number of new infections has been rising in recent weeks, amid calls for a more unified and easy-to-understand approach to stemming contagion.

The number of new infections reached 5,132 on Wednesday, roughly 1,000 cases more than the previous day, and the highest single-day toll since April, the RKI said.

The number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care remains low, with 620 people currently occupying ICU beds – up from 450 one week prior.

Health Minister Jens Spahn announced that a new testing regime would be introduced from Thursday that would place an emphasis on high-risk groups and health care workers rather than those returning from trips abroad.

Seibert said new quarantine rules for travellers returning from high-risk regions abroad would apply from November 8, with quarantine imposed for 10 days.

Returning travellers can currently avoid quarantine by showing a negative test less than 48 hours old.

Critics say the patchwork of rules that has emerged from Germany’s decentralized system is confusing to the public.

One particularly controversial rule is that people living in high-risk areas cannot travel to other parts of Germany without showing a negative coronavirus test that is less than 48 hours old.

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