German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other German state leaders have agreed a phased easing of COVID-19 curbs along with an “emergency brake” to let authorities reimpose restrictions if case infections increase again.
With elections looming, Merkel and the regional leaders have been under growing pressure to set out plans to restore normal activities after 4 months of lockdown.
Nonetheless, daily cases are spiraling out again and only around 5% of the population have received a first vaccine dose.
“We are at the threshold of a new phase of the pandemic that we can go into not carelessly but still with justified hope,” Merkel told reporters on Wednesday after what she described as “tough negotiations” with the regional chiefs.
The leaders agreed to use the full length of the approved interval between first and second vaccinations and to minimize stockpiling of booster shots to get more people started on the two-shot course.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) recommends giving Pfizer and BioNTech’s doses 3 weeks apart and AstraZeneca’s up to 12 weeks apart.
They also indicated they expected a decision soon from Germany’s standing committee on inoculation on administering the AstraZeneca shot to over-65s, “in a bid to be able to adjust the vaccination schedule accordingly”.
Germany currently only allows the AstraZeneca vaccine to be given to people aged 18 to 64, which has led to a low take-up of available doses, slowing vaccination efforts.
Under Wednesday’s 5-stage plan, up to 5 people from 2 households will be allowed to meet from March 8, with children under 14 exempt.
As for retailers, they can reopen provided case numbers are below 50 cases per 100,000 people over 7 days in the relevant region. If the incidence rises above 50, ‘click and meet’ restrictions kick in, whereby customers book a slot to go to the store.
If the metric rises above 100 on 3 consecutive days, the emergency brake will be enforced and restrictions revert to those in effect prior to March 8.
Later stages will see restaurant terraces open, and museums, theaters and cinemas reopening for people who can present a recent negative test result. Finally, open-air events with up to 50 people will be allowed, and contact sports inside.