Germany keeps restrictions in place until March 7 but begins to open schools

Merkel will only allow the resumption of commercial activity if the cumulative incidence falls below 35 weekly cases per 100,000 inhabitants

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel takes off her mask at the start of Wednesday's press conference

SabadellNew extension in the anticovid restrictions in Germany. For more than 100 days bars, restaurants, theaters, cinemas, nightclubs and gyms in the Germanic country have closed, and it will continue to be so for at least three more weeks. Chancellor Angela Merkel and the presidents of the 16 Länder have agreed on Wednesday to keep current measures in place to contain the pandemic at least until March 7, although it had been announced that they would be lifted this Sunday. In fact, Merkel intended to extend the deadline for another week, until the 14th, but has come up against the opposition of the lands.

The chancellor has not been able to impose her criterion regarding the reopening of schools, which offer only distance classes since December 16, when the restrictions were tightened. Her intention was that face-to-face activity could be resumed from 1 March, but she has finally given in and will allow each territory to set the date it deems most appropriate. In Berlin, for example, it has already been announced that primary schools will return to normal on 22 February. Hairdressers, who had to close on November 2, will be able to reopen on March 1, when, according to Merkel, the cumulative incidence is expected to have fallen below 50 cases per week per 100,000 inhabitants, the barrier that the government had set to begin to eliminate some restrictions.

Currently, the cumulative incidence stands at 68 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, the lowest since the first restrictions were imposed more than three months ago. This value reached a maximum of 198 cases on 22 December, a few days after the country entered a hard lockdown, which has not yet been lifted. In Catalonia this indicator is now below 200, and reached over 350 cases in early January. This Wednesday Germany has reported 8,072 new infections and 813 deaths caused by covid-19, data that confirm the clear downward trend that the country has recorded since the middle of last month. In total, 2.3 million Germans have been infected so far, and nearly 63,000 have died. In Spain, with about half the population, the number of deaths is almost the same, and this week 3 million infections have been exceeded.

No forecast for the hospitality industry

The March 7 date for the end of the current restrictions will be reviewed four days before, and Merkel has already warned that the measures can only begin to be lifted if at that time the cumulative incidence has fallen to at least 35 cases per 100,000 inhabitants per week. If these conditions are met, small shops, museums and beauty salons will be allowed to reopen. The rest of the cultural facilities, as well as bars and restaurants, nightlife venues and sports centres, will still have to wait.

"The efforts of citizens to achieve a decrease in infections have borne fruit, for which I thank them from here", Merkel said in the appearance after the telematic meeting with regional presidents, but added that it will only be possible to trace the origin of the contagions if it is possible to further reduce the number of new infections. The president has warned that the presence in the country of the british variant of the virus, which is "more aggressive", makes it necessary to maintain restrictions. Last week this mutation accounted for 6% of all new cases diagnosed in Germany.

"We know that these variants are a reality and that this will cause [the infection rate] to increase. The question is how fast [this will happen]", the chancellor warned. German virologist Melanie Brinkmann of the Helmholtz Centre for Infectious Diseases warned last week in an interview with the weekly newspaper Der Spiegel that the measures taken so far by different countries have not been enough to stop the spread of these variants. "The British mutation and the others will overtake us. This race has been lost for a long time. All the rest is wishful thinking, fuelled by the false promises of some politicians. We will not have vaccinated enough people before the new mutations attack us", she said.