Germany will introduce tougher measures on gatherings and mask-wearing to fight a surge in coronavirus infections, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday after talks with the heads of Germany’s 16 federal states.
Europe’s biggest economy will begin imposing limits on people gathering at events as well as mandatory mask wearing at crowded places when new infections in an area reach 35 per 100,000 in seven days, earlier than under the previous yardstick used of 50 per 100,000.
“I am convinced that what we do now in these days and weeks will be decisive for the question of how we come through this pandemic,” Merkel said.
“We can see that … infection rates are rising and that we have a very high infection rate in some regions,” she added.
“We must therefore prevent an uncontrolled or exponential increase.”
If an area records more than 35 new infections per 100,000 people over seven days, masks will become mandatory in all places where people have close contact for an extended period.
The number of people allowed to gather will also be limited to 25 in public and 15 in private spaces.
“We have decided on this prophylactic number of 35 because we have seen some examples of how fast the increase happens from 35 to 50,” Merkel said.
Once a threshold of 50 new infections per 100,000 is exceeded, even tougher restrictions will apply.
These include limiting private gatherings to 10 people or two households, and the closure of restaurants after 11:00 pm (2100 GMT).
The fraught talks lasting eight hours were intended to establish a more unified approach amid concerns that Germany’s federal system is leading to a confusing patchwork of regulations.
But a particular sticking point was a ban agreed last week on domestic travellers from so-called risk zones from staying in hotels or holiday apartments.
With some state premiers seeking to overturn the ban, Merkel said talks over the subject would be postponed until after autumn school vacation on November 8.
Instead, they agreed simply to urge citizens to avoid “domestic travel in and out of areas” where new infection have topped 50 per 100,000 people something which would qualify them as risk zones.
Merkel has in recent days repeatedly voiced alarm about contagion increasing again, urging the country not to squander its early success in keeping numbers manageable.
She has prioritised keeping schools open, so that students do not lose more education time, and ensuring that most of the economy can keep running.
But new infections continued to rise Wednesday, pushing past 5,000 cases in 24 hours—a level not seen since a lockdown imposed on Europe’s biggest economy in the spring.
Even more curbs could be imposed if the upwards trajectory of new infections is maintained, Merkel warned.
“We will see if what we’ve done today is enough,” she said after Wednesday’s decisions.
“That’s why my worry is still not gone after today.”