Germany agrees tougher rules to fight rising infections
People walk with masks in the central train station in Munich. AFP
Germany plans to keep fans out of stadiums until at least the end of the year and get tougher on mask-wearing to combat a worrying rise in coronavirus infections, under a draft seen by AFP on Thursday.
Chancellor Angela Merkel is holding talks with the leaders of Germany's 16 federal states to officially agree a package of new measures, which will apply nationwide. The talks are aimed at creating a more coherent approach to the pandemic after daily infection numbers in recent weeks soared to highs not seen since April.
Although Germany has weathered the pandemic well so far, the recent rise in coronavirus cases "must be taken very seriously", the draft agreement reads. "The goal of the federal government and the states is to work together to reduce the infection numbers as much as possible."
The new regulations will include a minimum fine of 50 euros ($59) for anyone caught without a face mask in places where wearing one is compulsory, such as in shops and on public transport. Germany also plans to extend a ban on large events from the end of October until December 31. It will apply to everything from festivals and concerts to large sporting events with spectators.
The decision deals a blow to German football clubs that had been hoping to welcome supporters back into stadiums this autumn.
It also goes against Interior Minister Horst Seehofer's earlier suggestion that it should be possible to hold Bundesliga football games "with just a few spectators keeping a large distance".
The draft text does however allow for exceptions to the ban in regions with low infection rates "and where it can be guaranteed that participants are exclusively from this region or nearby regions" with similarly low case numbers.
When it comes to smaller gatherings, German authorities want to limit parties in private homes to 25 people. The draft urges citizens "to limit the number of people they come into contact with", to keep a distance of 1.5 metres (five feet) and to opt for gatherings "in the open air" over indoor ones.
Under Germany's federal system each state has the right to impose its own coronavirus regulations, leading to a patchwork of rules critics say can be confusing. The current penalties on flouting mask rules for instance vary wildly, from 40 euros in Hamburg and 250 euros in Bavaria to no fines at all in Brandenburg.
As in other countries, Germany's surge in coronavirus cases in recent weeks has been mainly blamed on summer travel and friends and family gatherings. Germany earlier this month introduced free mandatory tests for travellers returning from high-risk areas and free voluntary tests for those coming back from elsewhere.
But following concerns that German labs were becoming overburdened, the draft document says it will scrap the free tests for those returning from non-risk areas from September 15. Authorities also plan to step up controls to ensure people adhere to quarantine rules.
Germany on Thursday reported 1,507 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total to 237,936, according to the Robert Koch disease control institute. The country has so far recorded 9,285 deaths.