Germany readies tougher lockdowns to ward off second wave
Employees of meat processing company Toennies queue at a corona test station at their headquarters in Rheda-Wiedenbrueck, western Germany, on July 16, 2020. AFP
Germany plans to allow for tougher lockdown measures to contain local outbreaks and ward off the threat of a second coronavirus wave, according to a draft agreement between the federal and regional governments.
The new rules would include a ban on travel "in and out of the affected areas" to limit the spread of the virus, the document seen by AFP said. The plan is set to be finalised later on Thursday and comes as countries across the world are reimposing curbs on public life in response to a surge in new infections.
Germany, which has been less affected by the pandemic than many of its neighbours, aims to respond to new clusters with hyper-local lockdowns and rapid contact tracing and testing, rather than blanket lockdowns of whole towns or districts. The need for clear rules was highlighted last month when a COVID-19 outbreak at a slaughterhouse in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia led to Germany's first renewed lockdowns, covering two neighbouring districts.
A local court later, however, ruled that the lockdown was too broad, and locals from the districts on holiday in neighbouring German states complained about being turned away from their accommodation. Chancellor Angela Merkel had on Tuesday voiced support for travel bans on people from coronavirus hotspots imposed by local authorities. "It's a proposal we should discuss and that I would back," she said, adding that it was "better for citizens" to have certainty rather than being denied entry to a hotel upon arrival.
The draft document states that the travel ban should be imposed "if the numbers continue to rise and there's no certainty that the chain of infection has been broken" in the affected area. Anyone wanting to leave a localised lockdown for another state must be able to show a negative coronavirus test that is less than 48 hours old, the draft agreement said.
Merkel's chief of staff Helge Braun told the ZDF broadcaster that the goal was to fight the virus with "faster, smaller and more precise" curbs rather than the larger lockdowns that have caused such economic devastation.
He said the military could even be called in to help ensure locals in an affected area get tested as quickly as possible. The new rules also come as Germany is anxiously eyeing the return of holidaymakers from abroad, fearing they could be bringing the virus back with them.