Germany damps hopes for easing curbs as Covid-19 contagion rates rise

BERLIN (BLOOMBERG) – Germany needs to further slow the spread of the coronavirus before the government can consider additional steps to loosen restrictions on Europe’s largest economy.

Children in 10 of Germany’s 16 states are set to return to schools and daycares for the first time in weeks on Monday (Feb 22), and authorities will need to evaluate the impact of the move before considering whether other curbs can be eased, Health Minister Jens Spahn said on Sunday.

“Once we have firm footing, we can take another step” after reopening schools and daycares, he said in an interview with ARD television.

Germany’s contagion rate rose to the highest level in more than a week on Sunday, the latest evidence that a steady decline since a peak before Christmas has ground to a halt.

The number of infections per 100,000 people over seven days was 60.2, still above the target of 50 that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has determined to be manageable.

Hairdressers are set to reopen on March 1 and further easing is tied to local seven-day incidence rates of less than 35.

Amid concerns about fast-spreading variants, Germany imposed border controls with the Czech Republic and Austria’s Tirol province in mid-February. Interior Minister Horst Seehofer will seek to extend those measures this week, he told Bayerischer Rundfunk.

Despite concerns about mutations, Dr Merkel’s government is under increasing pressure to present a path out of the lockdown amid criticism over the sluggish pace of the country’s vaccine programme.

Mr Spahn pleaded for patience as the country seeks to strike a balance between easing strains on the pandemic-weary public and health risks from aggressive virus strains.

“I know everybody wants a three- and a six-month plan, but that’s not possible,” he said.