Germany readies tougher lockdowns to ward off second wave: draft plan

Berlin (AFP) –


Germany plans to allow for tougher lockdown measures to contain local outbreaks and ward off the threat of a second coronavirus wave, according to a draft agreement between the federal and regional governments.

The new rules would include a ban on travel "in and out of the affected areas" to limit the spread of the virus, the document seen by AFP said.

The plan is set to be finalised later on Thursday and comes as countries across the world are reimposing curbs on public life in response to a surge in new infections.

Germany, which has been less affected by the pandemic than many of its neighbours, aims to respond to new clusters with hyper-local lockdowns and rapid contact tracing and testing, rather than blanket lockdowns of whole towns or districts.

The need for clear rules was highlighted last month when a COVID-19 outbreak at a slaughterhouse in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia led to Germany's first renewed lockdowns, covering two neighbouring districts.

A local court later however ruled that the lockdown was too broad, and locals from the districts on holiday in neighbouring German states complained about being turned away from their accommodation.

Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday voiced support for travel bans in and out of coronavirus hotspots imposed by local authorities.

"It's a proposal we should discuss and that I would back," she said, adding that it was "better for citizens" to have certainty rather than being denied entry to a hotel upon arrival.

- Calling in the army -

The draft document states that the travel ban should be imposed "if the numbers continue to rise and there's no certainty that the chain of infection has been broken" in the affected area.

Anyone wanting to leave a localised lockdown for another state must be able to show a negative coronavirus test that is less than 48 hours old, the draft agreement said.

Merkel's chief of staff Helge Braun told the ZDF broadcaster that the goal was to fight the virus with "faster, smaller and more precise" curbs rather than the larger lockdowns that have caused such economic devastation.

He said the military could even be called in to help ensure locals in an affected area get tested as quickly as possible.

The new rules also come as Germany is anxiously eyeing the return of holidaymakers from abroad this summer, fearing they could be bringing the virus back with them.

Video footage of German tourists partying in Mallorca -- without face masks or keeping the recommended 1.5 metres apart -- has caused particular alarm.

- 'Reckless behaviour' -

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned Germans not to undo the progress made in combatting the virus.

"Such behaviour is not just dangerous, but inconsiderate towards all those who would like to enjoy their holiday safely," he told the Funke newspaper group.

"We've only just managed to open borders in Europe again. We must not jeopardise this with reckless behaviour."

Germany has recorded just over 200,000 confirmed coronavirus cases to date, and 9,078 deaths, according to the Robert Koch Institute for disease control.

The country has credited early, widespread testing and its world-class healthcare system for keeping the fatality rate relatively low.

Germans have also generally complied with rules on social distancing and wearing face masks.

More than 15 million people have also downloaded Germany's coronavirus warning app aimed at alerting people who've been in close proximity to an infected person.