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Merkel Faces Growing Pressure to Ease Germany’s Covid Curbs

Merkel Faces Growing Pressure to Ease Germany’s Covid Curbs

Chancellor Angela Merkel faces further pressure to lay out a path to ease Germany’s coronavirus lockdown after Finance Minister Olaf Scholz became the latest senior official to call for a quicker reopening of Europe’s largest economy.


Scholz -- the vice chancellor and the Social Democratic candidate to succeed Merkel in September’s election -- threw his weight behind proposals to move away from a reliance on using the seven-day incidence rate to manage Germany’s pandemic and focus on ramping up testing. As more aggressive variants spread, the measure of new infections has been inching back up, moving the country further from targets Merkel has set for loosening curbs. Her coronavirus cabinet, which includes Scholz, met on  Monday to prepare for a critical meeting with state leaders on Wednesday.


Increased testing “must have an impact on what is possible in terms of moves to open up,” Scholz said late Sunday in an interview with the Bild newspaper. “It’s not going to happen all at once, but there must be a step-by-step process that everyone can understand.” To facilitate a faster reopening, he said he wants companies to test workers and citizens to be able to get free Covid-19 checks. His comments indicate a growing consensus in Germany to focus less on the incidence rate to determine pandemic policy.


Merkel opened the door to the move last week, saying testing could create a “buffer” to allow for opening above her target of 35 new cases per 100,000 people over seven days. The figure rose to 65.8 on Monday, according to the RKI public health institute. Germany’s outbreak receded steadily after peaking just before Christmas, but the downward trend has been halted for around two weeks, prompting fears that more virulent strains of the disease could trigger another surge in cases.


While some children have returned to schools and hairdressers were allowed to reopen on Monday, most of Germany’s lockdown restrictions remain in place. With the pandemic-weary public growing restless ahead of national elections, some officials are keen to ease the strain, while others are more cautious. 


Merkel and the state premiers are set to agree on a broad extension of current lockdown measures until the end of this month, including shuttered non-essential stores, restaurants, gyms and cultural venues, Business Insider magazine reported Monday, citing government sources it did not identify by name. At the same time, officials want to lay out a timetable for a gradual easing of curbs beyond March that relies on reducing the incidence rate to 70, rather than 35, the magazine said. A broad extension of current restrictions to the end of the month is one option being considered, a person familiar with the discussion told Bloomberg.


The situation across the European Union is looking increasingly alarming, after a stuttering start to the bloc’s vaccination campaign. Italy is tightening restrictions in Milan, Turin and other areas, the Czech Republic will impose its toughest lockdown yet, and Germany introduced a test requirement at its border with the French Moselle region to tackle the spread of mutations.


Source: Bloomberg


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