Saxony is closing schools and shops, and other states could soon adopt tougher measures. But which? And how long are they valid then? The main scenarios.
Saxony has already shown that in the fight against the corona pandemic, Chancellor Angela Merkel and the state ministers may decide this week on additional restrictions for the rest of the republic. At the request of t-online, the Chancellery did not want to provide any information about a spontaneous corona crisis summit. “The federal states are currently still in the process of voting on whether a prime ministerial conference should take place. We do not want to anticipate this process at the moment,” said a spokeswoman. The question is:
Scenario 1: Hard lockdown across Germany
The “Bild” newspaper reported that there should be much tougher lockdown measures after the holidays until the beginning of the year. There is talk of only leaving supermarkets open between December 27th and January 3rd or 10th. According to dpa information, there are still no concrete measures that have been fully discussed.
Saxony, which is currently particularly badly hit by the corona virus, will go into a hard lockdown from next Monday. Schools, kindergartens, after-school care centers and the retail trade, with the exception of essential supplies, are to be closed, as Prime Minister Michael Kretschmer (CDU) announced on Tuesday after a cabinet meeting in Dresden. The lockdown should therefore apply until January 10th.
Berlin’s governing mayor Michael Müller (SPD) had also not ruled out tougher restrictions. “We have said that we want to maintain a certain offer until Christmas,” he said on Tuesday in the ARD “Morgenmagazin”. “I can well imagine that there will be restrictions afterwards,” continued Müller, looking at the business. “There is also no reason to really buy a sweater on December 28th, you can do that beforehand.” Such regulations would have to be implemented nationwide. “Restrictions in retail, restrictions in school operations, I’m curious to see whether everyone is really as ready as we are in Berlin.”
Scenario 2: Hard lockdown in the hotspots
One possibility is also to tighten the restrictions only in the regions particularly affected by the pandemic. If the seven-day incidence is well above 50 infections per 100,000 inhabitants, a lockdown could only be initiated for these areas.
Chancellery chief Helge Braun sees this as an opportunity: “Because a lockdown of this kind does not work in the long term, we have to tighten things up again, at least in the hotspots.” He also said on Sunday in the “Bild” newspaper that an “eternal lockdown light” would not make sense epidemiologically or economically.
Scenario 3: Stop compulsory schooling from December 14th
Despite the prospect of corona vaccinations advocates the National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina in favor of “reducing the excessive number of new infections quickly and drastically through a hard lockdown”. This is what the scientists write in a statement on the corona pandemic.
The scholars suggest a two-step process. It initially provides for compulsory school attendance to be lifted from December 14th and “emphatically” encouraging people to work in the home office. Also “all group activities in the area of sport and culture should be stopped”.
In the second stage, starting at Christmas, “public life in Germany should be largely idle until at least January 10, 2021”, ie a “tightened lockdown” should be introduced. This includes the Leopoldina that all shops except for those for daily needs close. The schools’ Christmas holidays should be extended to January 10th. Vacation trips and larger gatherings during the entire time would have to be completely avoided.
Scenario 4: Several small lockdowns
Virologist Christian Drosten recommends a different strategy in his NDR podcast: several small lockdowns. These “circuit breakers” (German for example: infection breakers) are short, time-limited shutdowns that are intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus and minimize the economic consequences. According to British researchers, such an interruption should last at least two weeks. Drosten even pleads for three weeks. “Everyone knows from the start: It is limited in time. Then everyone can adjust to it.”
However, politicians should announce the mini lockdowns in good time, then one could consider whether the schools should remain open – or whether the measures should be taken during the holiday season, so Drosten. This could lead to a relief of the health authorities if it reduces the number of new infections every day. At the moment, the incidence in Germany is still comparatively low. “If we were to step on the brakes now, it would have a very lasting effect.”
Virologist Christian Drosten: He pleaded for several small lockdowns in his podcast. (Source: xim.gs/imago images)
What conclusions can be drawn from the spring lockdown?
The lockdown in spring has demonstrably reduced both the number of cases and the number of intensive care and hospital beds occupied. However, the seasonal aspect also came into play at this time: Viruses generally spread more slowly in summer, so the situation from spring cannot be transferred one-to-one to the present. The virologist Alexander Kekulé complained in the t-online interview Among other things, it had become clear that there was not enough preparation for autumn.
“All virologists agreed that we will experience a reduction in the number of infections in the summer and that it will get worse again in the fall,” said Kekulé. Because ultimately the corona virus behaves like a cold virus. However, politicians apparently still hoped that the predicted deterioration would not occur. At the beginning of November there was no longer any alternative to a lockdown.
Uwe Janssens, the President of the German Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive and Emergency Medicine (DIVI), warned at the beginning of November that the situation in the clinics was worse than in spring. In contrast to the peak on April 18, this time there will be no slowdown. There are significantly more infected patients on the other wards, some of whom will still end up in the intensive care units. The reason: The respective number of new infections only shows itself with a delay in severe courses and finally in the occupancy of the intensive care units. “In four weeks we will see the consequences of the peak values,” says Janssens.
Why is lockdown the only way to reduce the numbers?
Only through a lockdown will public life be reduced to such an extent that there are both fewer contacts and less mobility. This reduces the number of infections in society. If fewer people become infected with the coronavirus, fewer people automatically have to be cared for in hospitals and intensive care units and there are fewer deaths. This prevents the health system from becoming overloaded. Currently around 22,000 of around 28,000 intensive care beds in Germany are occupied, almost 4,200 of them by corona patients. The situation is particularly dramatic in Berlin, for example, where around 25 percent of the beds are occupied by corona patients. That shows the central register of the DIVI.
When the measures were extended at the end of November and easing decisions were made over the Christmas period, Janssens criticized the lack of continuity in political measures relating to the corona crisis. He told the editorial network in Germany: “It would be desirable to establish a long-term strategy and not have constant discussions every two weeks.” It should be clear to every sensible person that “at Christmas we are definitely not in a situation that allows sustainable relaxation.”
What are the consequences of a hard lockdown on the economy?
One thing is certain: a hard lockdown could deal a severe blow to the German economy. But this time it won’t be as bad as in spring. In the second quarter, i.e. between April and June, economic output slumped by more than 10 percent – more sharply than ever since the quarterly calculations began in 1970.
It won’t be that bad for November and December. There are several reasons for this: the industry is still going, and exports are still possible. Because China as an important EU partner has reopened its borders – and is flourishing.
However, a hard lockdown, which would also mean closing all stores except supermarkets, would be bad news for many retailers. The trade association (HDE) is already seeing that the propensity to consume will decline before Christmas – and with it sales.
“Many retailers no longer know how to survive this crisis in view of the shrinking sales,” explains HDE boss Stefan Genth. “The high-volume Christmas business in normal years could lead to bankruptcy of up to 50,000 dealers in 2020.” The trade association expects that renewed store closings could cost the non-food trade up to a billion euros in turnover per day.
Trade association calls for help for businesses in the event of a hard lockdown
The timing of a hard lockdown could therefore be decisive. Can retailers take the rest of the Christmas business with them – or not? Is ‘only’ the winter sales season canceled?
For the HDE, one thing is certain: store closings should not take place until after Christmas Eve at the earliest, or better still from January, “for a clearly defined, manageable period of time,” it says. “In that case, however, appropriate state aid is required for the traders affected,” said Genth. “Otherwise there will be a conflagration in our inner cities.”
The previous schedule for the holidays
The federal and state governments had actually agreed to allow ten people plus children to attend family reunions from December 23 to January 1 at the latest. Otherwise a maximum of five people from two households are allowed together. Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg have already limited the easing to December 23rd to 26th and 27th respectively. A maximum of five people are allowed in Berlin over the entire public holidays.
North Rhine-Westphalia does not rule out a nationwide tightening of the corona measures. “If the overall situation does not improve in a timely manner, an even more restrictive approach appears necessary nationwide in order to reduce the number of new infections more clearly everywhere,” said NRW Health Minister Karl-Josef Laumann (CDU).
The hospitals demanded that the announced easing be withdrawn. The situation in many clinics is already stressful, said the head of the German Hospital Society (DKG), Gerald Gaß, the “Handelsblatt”. “We have 40 percent more intensive care patients today than in spring, and unlike in spring this is not a short-term situation, but has been the case for weeks without us being able to see an end.” The appeal of the federal government to minimize private contacts has apparently not been fruitful.