The Star Malaysia
Merkel seizes reins, imposes tougher virus curbs
BERLIN: The German government agreed on controversial changes to a national infections control law, handing Berlin more power to impose tougher measures such as night-time curfews to halt the raging coronavirus pandemic.
Chancellor Angela Merkel pushed for the law, which updates existing legislation and needs approval from both houses of parliament, after some of Germany’s 16 regions failed to impose curbs agreed with her government despite rising cases.
The adjusted law, which still needs to be approved by parliament, would allow Merkel’s government to make tighter restrictions mandatory in virus hotspots, including imposing curfews from 9pm to 5am and closing schools – usually strictly within the remit of the federal states – and businesses.
Private gatherings and sports will also be subject to the restrictions as Germany remains gripped by a dangerous third wave of the pandemic which is putting increased strain on the country’s health system.
The move aims to end a political tug-of-war between the federal government and powerful regions over coronavirus measures, with manoeuvring ahead of September elections adding to the tensions.
Currently coronavirus measures are decided on in consultation with Berlin and – in theory -– implemented by the federal states.
Yet in many cases, regional leaders have failed to put in place shutdown measures to which they agreed with Merkel, with some even allowing shops and cinemas to reopen in areas where the seven-day incidence rate exceeds 100 new infections per 100,000 people.
Only one out of Germany’s 16 states was reporting an incidence rate below 100 as of yesterday.
Finance Minister and ViceChancellor Olaf Scholz said in a radio interview that he’s “firmly convinced” the law will create uniform rules for Germany on what to do when the infection numbers rise.
“We have a good chance of putting the pandemic behind us in the summer once millions of citizens have been vaccinated, but we must prevent this being significantly delayed by rising infections,” he added.
“These are regulations that are necessary, that are right and that are easy to grasp.”
The Cabinet also approved a regulation requiring companies to offer Covid-19 tests to on-site employees.
The requirement had been voluntary, with about 60% of firms complying, but that is insufficient and all companies must now provide the tests, according to Labour Minister Hubertus Heil.
The regulation applies to the public sector and private firms, Heil said on ARD television.
Scholz said companies will have to pay for the tests themselves as a contribution to the country’s battle against the pandemic.