By Sarah Marsh and Emma Thomasson
BERLIN – The German region hardest hit by the country’s fourth wave of coronavirus is considering a partial lockdown, local media reported on Thursday as regional and federal leaders discussed tighter rules nationwide.
Saxony, which has Germany’s lowest vaccination rate and highest infection rate, is considering measures like closing theatres, concerts and soccer games to the public once more and shutting bars and discos, according to Bild newspaper.
The eastern region, where new daily infections have risen 14-fold in the past month, is a stronghold of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which harbours many vaccine sceptics who have joined anti-lockdown protests.
A Forsa poll published earlier this month found that half of unvaccinated respondents in Germany had voted for the right-wing populist AfD in the recent federal election.
“This coalition is ready to now impose a hard and clear wave breaker,” Saxony leader Michael Kretschmer told the national parliament, according to Bild. The specifics would be hammered out this week, he said.
The announcement comes the same week Austria imposed a lockdown for the unvaccinated https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/austrian-covid-cases-hit-record-third-day-lockdown-unvaccinated-2021-11-17. Kretschmer said he did not believe targeting only the unvaccinated was enough.
German federal and regional leaders will later on Thursday discuss nationwide measure to tackle the pandemic as cases continue to touch new record highs although the rate of increase is slowing down slightly.
Europe’s latest coronavirus wave comes at an awkward time in Germany with conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel acting in a caretaker capacity while three other parties negotiate to form a new government after an inconclusive September election.
Those three parties shepherded a law authorizing a package of measures to tackle the pandemic through the Bundestag (lower house of parliament) earlier on Thursday. On Friday, the law, which is designed to come into effect as emergency powers expire, goes to the Bundesrat (upper house).
The law will tighten some measures currently in place, forcing people to show proof of vaccination or recovery or a negative COVID-19 test on public transport and at work, in addition to wearing face masks.
It will provide states also with a toolbox of other measures depending on the severity of their outbreak, with infection rates currently much higher in eastern and southern Germany.
But some, especially among Merkel’s conservatives who are likely heading into the opposition after 16 years in power, feel it does not go far enough.
They would prefer to see the state of emergency, which allows the government to impose school closures and blanket lockdowns without consulting the parliament, to be extended. Merkel described Germany’s COVID-19 situation as dramatic https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/germanys-coronavirus-situation-is-dramatic-merkel-says-2021-11-17 on Wednesday.
Separately, Germany’s vaccine advisory committee on Thursday recommended COVID-19 vaccine booster shots for all people aged over 18.
Vaccinations have picked up lately in Germany, which has a history of vaccine resistance, although largely due to uptake of booster shots as more indoor gatherings due to colder weather raises the risk of spreading the virus.