Angela Merkel accepted, on Wednesday March 3, a gradual unlocking of the anti-Covid system in Germany, yielding to growing discontent in public opinion and within her own government, seven months before the legislative elections.
After more than nine hours of tough negotiations, the Chancellor and the leaders of the country’s 16 regional states have reached an agreement on a timetable for easing the partial containment measures in place since the end of last year. This anti-Covid device is now only supported by a third of Germans, against two thirds in early January, according to a YouGov poll published this week.
“Today we can speak of hope and hope”, the German Chancellor said at a press conference, believing that her country was now entering “in a new phase” the fight against the epidemic made possible in particular by the acceleration of vaccinations.
Germany will thus authorize the AstraZeneca vaccine to over 65s, announced the Chancellor. The time between the administration of two doses will also be lengthened, to allow the vaccination of more patients.
So far, Berlin had not authorized this vaccine for over 65s, arguing insufficient scientific data from the Anglo-Swedish laboratory to allow it.
From now on, “very recent studies have provided elements” allowing the maximum age of use of the vaccine to be raised, she explained. She made particular reference to British medical studies showing significant efficacy for older people.
Life will however continue to slow down, with most restrictions extended to at least March 28 to counter the rise in cases and the spread of the British variant, which now accounts for 46% of infections.
Private meetings will however be possible, from March 8, between two homes, provided they do not exceed five people in total. Bookshops, florists and driving schools, which have already reopened in some Länder, will once again be able to welcome visitors across the country.
The Chancellor gave in to the German regions about an incidence threshold of 35 per 100,000 below which future relaxations would be granted. The threshold of 50, less restrictive, was finally retained to pave the way, from the end of March, to reopening in outdoor catering, cultural and sporting sectors. On the other hand, severe restrictions will be reintroduced above 100.
However, there is still some way to go to reach the level of 50 in the long term, with the incidence rate rising to 64 on Wednesday, a slight increase in recent days. Only one region, Thuringia (ex-GDR), records a rate greater than 100. But only two have an incidence of less than 50, in a country where Covid-19 has killed more than 70,000 people.
The government’s strategy of openness also wants to build on the massive practice of antigenic tests, an area in which Germany still lacks efficiency. The government thus promises the availability of these rapid tests, expected shortly on the shelves of drugstores, so that by the beginning of April, the entire population can be tested regularly and free of charge.
All school and nursery staff, as well as students, will also be offered free antigenic tests every week. Companies will be involved and will have to offer tests to their employees who go to their workplace, a measure that does not delight professional organizations.