Merkel’s Push for More Lockdown Control Backed by Parliament

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Germany’s lower house of parliament backed Chancellor Angela Merkel’s controversial lockdown law, as officials struggle to check a fresh wave of coronavirus infections that’s putting intense pressure on hospitals.

Merkel’s ruling coalition pushed the legislation through after her government failed to find common ground with regional leaders on measures needed to fight the pandemic. The law -- which expires at the end of June -- triggers tighter restrictions in virus hotspots, including nighttime curfews and closing schools and non-essential stores.

Merkel’s Push for More Lockdown Control Backed by Parliament

“We have to break this third wave” by reducing contact as far as possible, Health Minister Jens Spahn told lawmakers during a stormy Bundestag debate.

“The situation is serious, very serious,” Spahn added. “The scene in many hospitals remains dramatic, and some patients are having to be transfered and treatments delayed.”

Merkel moved to effectively override regional authorities because the renewed surge in infections threatens to overwhelm some intensive-care units. The number of Covid-19 patients in ICUs has been rising steadily since mid-March, and is close to 5,000, not far from a peak of 5,745 scaled at the beginning of January.

The Bundesrat upper house, where Germany’s 16 states are represented, is due to debate the lockdown legislation on Thursday, though the law does not need the chamber’s formal approval.

Merkel’s Push for More Lockdown Control Backed by Parliament

Some opposition parties have vowed to challenge it in court and there were more protests against it on Wednesday in central Berlin. Tougher curbs will automatically be imposed in places with a seven-day incidence rate above 100 per 100,000 people on three consecutive days. Only the northern region of Schleswig-Holstein is currently below that threshold.

Thorsten Frei, a deputy leader of Merkel’s conservative caucus, defended the law against criticism that parts of it, including nighttime curfews, may contravene the constitution.

Lockdown Rules for Incidence Above 100:
Non-essential stores open by appointment unless incidence exceeds 150
Nighttime curfew between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.
Rotation of school classes; schools to shut if incidence exceeds 165
Private contacts limited to one household plus one other person
Restaurants closed except for takeout until 10 p.m.

“You won’t find any European country that has managed to break the wave of infections without imposing curfews,” Frei said Wednesday in an interview with ZDF television.

Meanwhile, Germany’s vaccine campaign has been picking up but still trails many other countries. Less than 7% of the country’s population has been fully vaccinated, compared with 26% in the U.S. and nearly 16% in the U.K., according to Bloomberg’s Coronavirus Tracker.

“The vaccination campaign has gathered pace enormously,” Spahn said. “But inoculation and testing are not enough on their own to break the third wave.”

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