Germany’s coronavirus lockdown, which was scheduled to end on February 14, will be in place until at least March 7, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday.
Speaking at a press conference in Berlin following an online meeting with the leaders of Germany’s 16 states, Merkel said that although the country’s infection numbers have been falling, caution is still needed because of the fast-spreading mutations of the virus.
“There could be a third wave [of infections] … and we can only fight that if we can really get the incidence numbers down so that the health authorities can get control of the virus again in the sense that they can trace contacts,” the chancellor said, adding that experts told her the period from now until mid-March was “when the mutated viruses could gain the upper hand.”
Merkel said that although she had March 1 in mind to begin reopening schools and kindergartens, she agreed with the state leaders that they should take charge of the reopening schedule as education is an issue for the state rather than the federal level in Germany.
She also said that federal and state governments will ask the health ministry to consider changing vaccination priorities so staff at primary schools and kindergartens can get their shots sooner than originally planned.
“We believe that members of these groups cannot always keep the necessary distances while doing their job,” she explained, adding it was also a “signal to show that kindergartens and schools are very important to us and we have a special duty to protect these employees.”
Hairdressers, which were closed when Germany intensified its lockdown on December 16, will be allowed to open on March 1.
Singling out hairdressers was “to do with dignity,” said Bavarian state premier Markus Söder.
When it came to sketching the country’s path out of lockdown, Merkel said next steps would only be possible when there is a stable seven-day incidence rate “of a maximum of 35 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants.” Once that happens, she said, the next steps would be the opening of shops, museums, galleries and businesses offering services that require close physical contact.
“Let’s face it: it’s easier to close than to open,” Söder said, arguing that while the former required courage, the latter required prudence.
The next meeting between Merkel and state leaders will be held on March 3.