German state premiers defend lockdown easing after Merkel criticism

By Simon Sachseder, dpa

A number of German state premiers on Monday defended their plans to ease coronavirus lockdown restrictions, after Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized their decisions and said the federal government may have to override them.

Participants in a conference call told dpa that Armin Laschet, the head of the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) and the leader of North Rhine Westphalia; Schleswig-Holstein premier Daniel Guenther; and Saarland premier Tobias Hans were among those to defend regional easing.

Lschet and Hans, who have both said that a massive ramping up of rapid antigen tests would go hand-in-hand with the easing of certain restrictions in their states, said that their strategies would help to trace coronavirus cases and therefore curb a third wave of infections.

Hans said that allowing people to enter social situations if they were able to show a negative test result would stop people from breaking the rules behind closed doors, according to the participants in the call.

Germany is waiting to see if Merkel will follow through after she rejected some state leaders’ efforts to ease a lockdown designed to contain a severe third wave of infections driven mainly by the British variant.

Speaking on political talk show “Anne Will” late on Sunday, Merkel urged the country’s 16 state premiers to implement a previously agreed upon “emergency brake” meant to see areas return to a hard lockdown when they reach a certain threshold of new infections.

“We must now implement the appropriate measures with great seriousness,” Merkel said, adding that if this did not happen, she would have to think about overriding state regulations “in the very foreseeable future.”

“That is my oath of office, that is my obligation,” said Merkel.

The threshold that has to be reached in the respective municipalities is 100 new infections per 100,000 residents during a seven-day period. Nationwide, this metric was surpassed for the eighth consecutive day on Monday, though some states have figures below that level.

“We are obliged by law to curb the infection rate,” she said. “At the moment, containment has not been achieved.

Merkel announced a major policy U-turn last week by taking back an even stricter lockdown for the upcoming Easter weekend, citing legal and logistical problems implementing it.

Since then, several states and regions – including Saarland – with lower infection rates have announced that they will ease their respective lockdowns.

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