Angela Merkel’s lawsuit in the negotiations with the prime ministers of the German federal states sounded strangely familiar. After the Chancellor failed with proposals for curfews and mandatory tests in schools and daycare centers and some countries instead demanded easing for Easter holidays on the German coast, her collar burst.
In a phase in which the virus is spreading exponentially again, it is not enough, Merkel complained, to simply confirm what was decided three weeks ago but never properly implemented in the countries. Relaxing holidays are exactly the wrong signal. “I don’t think you can hold out in front of the public with it.” In any case, she couldn’t stand by it.
At the same point as five months ago
Five months earlier, on October 14, 2020, Merkel had sounded just as annoyed when she argued with the prime ministers about tougher measures at the beginning of the second wave. “What we do here is simply not enough,” she complained at the time. In this way one can no longer avert “the calamity”. “Then we’ll be back in two weeks.” What was meant was: To decide what, from their point of view, had long been necessary.
At that time, Merkel gave up in the end (and got right two weeks later) because she saw that the federal states saw the situation as much less dramatic than the federal government. In retrospect, that hesitation is also seen by the Prime Minister as the most important mistake of the second wave of pandemics.
Probably because of this, Merkel stayed tough this time and sought confrontation. What helped her: She suspected that she could probably afford a scandal sooner than the prime ministers. That things were going to get serious must have dawned on the country leaders at the latest when the Chancellor presented the instruments of torture of her legendary art of attrition: first she had the meeting interrupted, then she worked on the negotiators of the countries in four-person talks that lasted for hours, surprising the big group at the end a radical proposal and finally presented after 12 hours an agreementthat not many had expected anymore.
From Maundy Thursday to Easter Monday, Germany will now go into a hard, short lockdown, as it has so far only existed locally in this country. All shops and businesses remain closed, there are also strict contact restrictions and a ban on public gatherings. If it had been up to Merkel, not even the supermarkets would have been allowed to stay open on Easter Saturday.
But what’s next?
From the point of view of Merkel and most of the prime ministers, the “Easter lockdown” should serve as evidence that German politics is taking the third wave more seriously than the second in October. The situation was “very, very serious,” said the Chancellor after the negotiations. Because of variant B1.1.7, which is “more infectious and deadly”, we are actually dealing with a “new pandemic”. If you want to prevent a collapse of the health system and many unnecessary deaths, you have to react more sharply than before.
However, an agreement between the federal and state governments has never been as laborious as it was on Tuesday night. The first reactions were mostly critical. Those who who longed for further relaxation, the recent restrictions went too far, but the cautious were too timid. Merkel’s show of strength was more of an “act of desperation” than a “liberation”, was the tenor.
Given the great Successful vaccinations in Israel, Great Britain and the USA, the lockdown in Germany that has been going on for months on many citizens is feeling increasingly demoralizing. Vaccination and testing do not (yet) work quickly enough, exhaustion grows. The third wave is only just beginning to lift.
The fact that Merkel had to put all her authority at risk at this point in order to convince the governments of the federal states once again of her cautious line does not bode well for the future.
After Easter, so the experts predict, the number of new infections and hospital admissions should be as high as at Christmas – “Easter lockdown” or not. The mood could then be considerably worse again. Not only the warnings from politics have increasingly worn out in recent months, the threats made by the outgoing Chancellor among the prime ministers have also felt the same. But who then enforces what is necessary?