Some states have expressed concern that the controversial amendments would give Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government the authority to enforce nighttime curfews and close schools in areas with high infection rates.
The move aims to end a political tug-of-war between the federal government and powerful regions over coronavirus measures, as Germany remains gripped by a dangerous third wave of the pandemic which is putting increased strain on the country’s health system.
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.
At a press conference on Monday, Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said the new law aimed to create “uniform national” rules.
“The aim is to bring the country as quickly as possible to a situation with much lower infection rates at which we can responsibly ease restrictions with testing,” he said.
– Bitter disputes –
Regular meetings between Berlin and the regions to set Germany’s coronavirus policies have been marked by bitter disputes and spotty compliance in recent weeks.
Most notably, some states have not followed through on an agreement to row back on the easing of measures in areas where the seven-day incidence rate exceeds 100 new infections per 100,000 people.
The adjusted law set to pass cabinet on Tuesday would give Berlin the power to enforce this “emergency brake”.
In a draft seen by AFP over the weekend, measures included a night-time curfew between 9pm and 5am, the closing of non-essential shops and restricting private gatherings to five people from two households.
The draft would also see Berlin force schools — usually strictly within the remit of the federal states — to revert to virtual teaching in most cases.
Yet amid fierce criticism from some regional leaders, Seibert said Monday that discussions over details were still ongoing.
Lower Saxony’s interior minister, Boris Pistorius, told Die Welt on Monday that seizing power from regions in the midst of a crisis was a “big mistake to take power from the regions in the middle of a crisis”
The German Association of Towns and Municipalities criticised the proposals as well, telling the Rheinische Post that the curfews were “constitutionally problematic”
The reforms will still need to be approved by parliament, where Merkel’s right-wing coalition has a majority.
The legislation may even be enacted without the consent of the upper house Bundesrat, where adoption is less assured.
“We don’t need to have everyone on board,” Ralph Brinkhaus, parliamentary leader for Merkel’s conservatives, told public broadcaster ARD.
– Rising infection rates –
The contentious departure from Germany’s tight federal institutions comes as Europe’s largest economy struggles to keep infection rates under control.
“At the moment, the figures are much too high. The strain on our intensive care units is increasing, and we must admit that this third wave could be the most difficult to crack “Merkel said.
Despite the fact that cultural venues, hotels, and recreational facilities have been closed for months, the overall number of infections surpassed three million on Monday.
Last week, health officials cautioned that unless stricter national policies are implemented, hospitals could become overcrowded.
“If we don’t go into lockdown, a lot of people will lose their lives,” said Lothar Wieler, head of the Robert Koch Institute infectious disease agency.