This time it’s not just hours of wrestling, but days of tough struggle. After a lot of switching and long, contentious final negotiations, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) and the Prime Minister of the federal states presented some tangible results on Wednesday evening as to how the fight against the persistently high Corona numbers should continue. Above all: how Christmas can be celebrated in Germany in this memorable year.
But then it goes apart again. There are no specific statements in the decision paper about which rules should apply in future in extreme hotspots. And unlike Christmas, for New Year’s Eve it cannot be ruled out that there will be a patchwork quilt with different country rules as to how many people can be celebrated with.
After all, the basic line is clear after this Wednesday: In December, the Corona requirements, which are actually limited to the end of November, are to be extended and tightened again in order to then be able to celebrate Christmas in a small group at least as a kind of ray of hope for people.
Contact restrictions will be tightened further
“It is a special month that lies ahead of us. And we have taken this into account in our decisions,” says Merkel. Nevertheless, so far only a “partial success” has been achieved. The exponential increase in the corona numbers is broken. In any case, one could not be satisfied with the partial success.
How will things continue in the new year? Not clear. In contrast to the prospect of a few weeks ago, the federal and state governments are not delivering a real long-term strategy on how to get through the winter. The federal-state rounds will continue to have to make regular adjustments.
First of all, one thing is clear: leisure and cultural facilities and restaurants will remain closed, initially until December 20th, and eventually beyond the turn of the year. However, this cannot yet be put into regulations. And above all: The contact restrictions will be tightened further: “Private gatherings” will be limited to your own household and one other household from December 1st, but in any case to a maximum of five people, excluding children up to 14 years.
Christmas in your closest circle
But families and close friends should at least be able to celebrate Christmas together, preferably after a few days of voluntary self-isolation. The school holidays should therefore start on December 19th. Then, from December 23rd, meetings “with the closest family or friends” should be possible, up to a maximum of ten people, excluding children up to 14 years.
But what about New Year’s Eve? According to the resolution, the exemption should apply “at the longest” until January 1st. So, in the end, will you be able to celebrate in smaller groups in some countries and not elsewhere?
But things could diverge beforehand, for example in schools. Here Merkel and her head of the Chancellery, Helge Braun (CDU), were blown almost across the board with the federal states a week and a half ago. Especially in the school sector, the federal government wanted to intervene with relatively drastic measures – such as halving the classes – and thus prevent schools from developing into hoards of the infection. In the end, the federal states prevented any tightening.
The federal and state governments have at least agreed on a line for hotspots with a seven-day incidence of over 200. Then school-specific measures “should” be taken, namely alternating or hybrid instruction from grade eight, except for final grades. However, implementation is ultimately the responsibility of the federal states.
Business receives aid in December too
A bitter pill will have to be swallowed by innkeepers, hoteliers or operators of fitness studios, cinemas and theaters to extend the partial lockdown. However, the federal government is again digging deep into its coffers: There should also be subsidies for December to compensate for lost sales – albeit not in full. That is expected to cost 17 billion euros. A volume of 14 to 15 billion euros is already expected for November aid.
It is true that existing funds for other programs are far from being exhausted. But the federal government has already incurred immense debts. The debate has already started as to whether the federal states should participate in grants – if the partial lockdown continues in January.
However, the federal and state governments are sticking to their general line: Otherwise the economy should be kept going as far as possible. The economic consequences of the widespread lockdown in spring were too severe. There are, however, further refinements: In retail, there are to be stricter requirements for larger businesses such as department stores. It’s about the number of customers who are allowed to shop at the same time. The value of 800 square meters plays a decisive role: up to this limit, a maximum of one person per 10 square meters of sales area may be in the shop. In larger shops, a maximum of one person per 20 square meters is allowed for the area that exceeds 800 square meters.
And then the federal and state governments are still wrestling with the railways: With a view primarily to the Christmas traffic with normally full trains, the Deutsche Bahn should take additional measures – but no reservation obligation, which some reportedly wanted. Now the “seating capacity” is to be increased significantly in order to allow even more distance between travelers. It is conceivable that Deutsche Bahn will use more trains. At the same time, the reservation of seats is to be restricted. The railway has to put this into practice.
The federally owned group, however, is likely to slide deeper into the red due to the Corona crisis, the occupancy rate in November was just 20 to 30 percent. The federal government has already decided on an equity injection of five billion euros, but Brussels has yet to approve it. But that should not be the end of the story.
After hours of tough deliberations on Wednesday, that is the central problem again: none of those involved knows whether and for how long the measures, the funds, the resolutions will last. The successes with various vaccines offer reason to be confident – but until then it will take a long breath. And winter has only just begun. “We need another effort,” says Merkel. (apa, dpa, Christoph Trost, Andreas Hoenig and Jörg Blan)