Merkel and states agree to loosen restrictions

Social contacts expanded, retail can reopen as long as the incidence stays below 100, better vaccination strategy to be developed. 

Merkel last night.
Merkel last night.AP

Berlin - The lockdown has been extended - to 28 March. Germany's state and federal governments late Wednesday agreed a broad plan to gradually reopen retail as well as restaurants and bars, if incidence numbers can stay below 100. But Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) didn't get everything she wanted during the nine hours of negotiations.

"We are at a transitional threshold," Merkel said during a press conference shortly before midnight. The new phase should start "not with carelessness, but with justified hopes."

Social contacts are the first beneficiary of the revised restrictions. Starting Monday, two households will be allowed to meet but limited to a total of five people. Children under 14 are excepted from the rule. Currently, a household is only allowed to meet with one other person. In addition, non-contact sports will be allowed on outdoor fields for groups of up to 20 children or for two households that don't exceed 5 adults.

Family physicians to vaccinate in April.

The measures agreed Wednesday put immunisation as the key tool in the fight against corona. Doctors will be allowed to offer vaccinations in their offices starting in April and will be included in the government's inoculation plans beginning at the end of March. Company physicians - active in large offices and factories - may already begin vaccinating.

The surprisingly controversial Astrazeneca vaccine will also be recommended for older people in the future. The jab so far has only been recommended for people younger than 65 by Germany's vaccination committee due to a lack of studies on older populations. The necessary second vaccination of some vaccines will also only be administered as late as possible within the recommended window to allow more people to get a first vaccination.

Rather than suggesting a better vaccination programme, Merkel pushed for the development of "clever backlog management" to allocate free vaccination appointments. No word on when the development should be completed but she said it should still prioritise the most at risk.

Where did 35 go?
Where did 35 go?German government

Free test anyone?

Rapid tests are the second key tool in the fight against the coronavirus. They are to become an integral part of everyday life. Everyone will be granted the right to one free test per week beginning 8 March, though it's unclear if the infrastructure is already in place.

Students and teachers are primarily the focus of the testing to clear the way for in-person instruction. Employees who cannot work at home should also take advantage of the opportunity. How will it be implemented? First, a task force has to be formed to discuss the measures before taking any action.

Opening retail, restaurants and culture is then divided into stages. At an incidence level below 100, as currently is in Berlin, retail can reopen 8 March though they could be shut again if the incidence levels increase. Shopping will be appointment-only. The appointment-only opening will also apply to museums, zoos and galleries.

If the incidence drops below 50, stores can open without appointments but a limited number of customers per square metre. These incidence-based rules allow for regionalised openings.

Theatres, cinemas and restaurants will only be allowed to open if the incidence remains below 100 for 14 days. But even then restaurants and cafes can only host freshly tested guests outdoors starting 22 March at the earliest. Just how cultural events, the hotel industry, and restaurants and bars can open will be discussed at the next meeting March 22.