“We must therefore proceed with caution and care so that a third wave does not require a new complete shutdown throughout Germany.”
Much of Europe is seeing cases of newer variants of Covid-19, particularly those that first emerged in the UK and South Africa. Both are believed to spread more rapidly than previous variants.
In Germany’s phased approach to reopening, hairdressers are to resume business on March 1, while most other businesses are to remain closed until March 7.
There are currently around 61.7 cases of Covid-19 per 100,000 inhabitants in Germany, according to the Robert Koch Institute, the country’s public health authority. Merkel has said the goal is to reduce that incident rate to 35 per 100,000 to reopen the economy significantly.
Merkel defended the states’ decisions to reopen schools, saying districts that hit the 35-in-100,000 rate could do so without impacting other areas.
He added that large-scale tests will be implemented in line with the country’s phased reopening.
“A smart opening strategy is inextricably linked with comprehensive rapid tests, as if they were free trials,” Merkel added. “I can’t say exactly how long it will take to install such a system. But it will be in March.”
Germany has been able to reduce the rate of Covid-19 infection with its blockade, which included closing its borders with Austria and the Czech Republic. Czech health authorities are now confirming record daily infection cases, with their death toll rising to one of the worst per capita in the world, pushing their hospitals to the brink of collapse.
Germany, like many nations in the European Union, is struggling to implement a widespread vaccination program that would help a more rapid reopening of its economy. The European Union is distributing its vaccines equally among its 27 member states, in proportion to their population, but has received tens of millions of fewer doses than expected.
The European Parliament is expected to question pharmaceutical companies in a public hearing on Thursday, demanding answers on the failures in the delivery of agreed amounts of vaccine doses.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz warned that restrictions in his country are beginning to lose their impact, highlighting the urgent need for a boost to the bloc’s vaccine stocks.
“The objective situation in Austria was simply that after six weeks the blockade had lost its effect. People have adhered less and less to it, there have been more and more changes in the private sector and a blockade in which nobody participates, of course it makes little sense, “he told the German newspaper Bild.
On Thursday he will pressure the European Union to install a “green passport” system that allows people who have been vaccinated to travel within the bloc.
While Germany and several other European nations consider how to lift their restrictions, France, which resisted a new national blockade as new variants emerged, is imposing new ones. President Emmanuel Macron is expected to announce new measures on Thursday.
The French Riviera has been put under weekend lockdowns for the next two weeks, while the region around the northern port city of Dunkirk will begin weekend closures on Saturday.