Germany to start easing COVID-19 lockdown next week – draft plans

BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany will start easing some coronavirus restrictions from next week, according to draft plans to be discussed by national and state government leaders on Wednesday, amid mounting public frustration over lockdowns and pressure to revive the economy.

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The easing will be tentative, given that while months of lockdowns have pushed down infection and death rates, new daily cases have begun creeping up again in recent days as more contagious variants of the virus spread in Germany while the country’s roll-out of vaccines has been sluggish.

Chancellor Angela Merkel is due to address lockdown and easing options with the 16 state government heads on Wednesday with coronavirus cases in Europe’s most populous country and largest economy up to more than 2.4 million.

The draft document, seen by Reuters, states that starting from March 8 a maximum of five people from two households, excluding children younger than 14, will be allowed to meet, up from a maximum of two people under current rules.

Armin Laschet, leader of Merkel’s Christian Democrats and premier of Germany’s largest state, said it should be possible to agree to ease the rules based on a strategy of more testing for COVID-19 and faster vaccinations.

“Test, test, test is the message for the coming months,” Laschet said.

The number of confirmed cases rose by 3,943 to 2,451,011 on Tuesday, while the reported death toll rose by 358 to 70,463. The number of cases per 100,000 people in the last seven days fell slightly to 65.7 from 65.8 the previous day.

Restaurants, bars and entertainment venues in Germany have been shut since early November. A stricter lockdown from mid-December forced non-essential shops, services and schools to close too. Factories and offices have remained open.

Flower shops and book stores, garden centres, tattoo and nail parlors as well as massage salons will also be allowed to reopen on March 8, according to the draft plan.

German retail sales tumbled more than expected in January as the lockdown and the withdrawal of a temporary cut in sales tax hit consumer spending, data showed on Tuesday.

Merkel and state leaders will need to decide at which rate of infection per 100,000 people certain measures could be either toughened or relaxed. The document cited 35 and 50 per 100,000 as two possible thresholds.

With Easter nearing, the draft agreement also appeals to Germans to avoid domestic and foreign travel. It adds, however, that limited visits to relatives will be allowed over the festive period.

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