Germany proposes to end most COVID-19 restrictions on 20 March
Germany proposes to end most COVID-19 restrictions on 20 March

Germany proposes to end most COVID-19 restrictions on 20 March

BERLIN (AP) – Germany’s leaders on Wednesday announced plans to end most of the country’s coronavirus restrictions by March 20, a decision that coincided with measures by neighboring Austria and Switzerland to drop many of their borders more quickly.

A three-step plan was approved by Chancellor Olaf Scholz and the country’s 16 state governors, as official figures show that Germany’s COVID-19 infection rate is starting to slide downwards.

“The peak has now probably been reached,” Scholz said, adding that “a constantly improving situation” can be expected in the coming weeks.

The relief is to start with scrapping rules that prevented people without proof of vaccination or cure from visiting unnecessary shops and lifting the boundaries of private gatherings of vaccinated people.

From March 4, the requirements to enter restaurants and bars will be relaxed, where a negative test is sufficient instead of, as in many areas at the moment, evidence of vaccination or improvement plus a test or a booster shot. Nightclubs are allowed to reopen, however, with access restrictions.

And “all far-reaching protection measures” must be dropped on March 20 “if the situation in the hospitals allows it,” according to Wednesday’s decision. An obligation to allow people to work from home will also lapse. But Scholz said requirements for mask wearing and distancing will remain in place.

Germany experienced infections caused by the highly contagious omicron variant increase later than in several other European countries. Officials have attributed to this the restrictions that have been in place since December.

But other countries, including neighboring Denmark, have also moved faster to lift the restrictions, and there have been increasing demands that Germany follow suit. Earlier Wednesday, Austria announced it would drop most of its restrictions on March 5, and Switzerland said most of its curbs will disappear this week.

Germany’s National Disease Control Center has reported several days of small declines in the country’s infection rate, although it is still well above the pre-micron levels.

As Germany moves in the direction of easing its recent restrictions, the prospects for a vaccine mandate for all adults appear to be waning. Scholz was in favor of such a mandate just before he became chancellor in December, but his three-party coalition is divided on the issue, and he left it to parliament to come up with proposals.

At present, it is unclear when lawmakers will vote on legislation and what if any kind of mandate would muster a majority. Scholz pushed for lawmakers to find a solution.

“We must not forget the next autumn and winter, and therefore it is still right not just to go in for vaccination, but to prepare the legislative measures for a general vaccine mandate,” he said. “It becomes necessary when the weather gets colder, when the days get darker, and when the infections can rise again.”

Even already approved legislation requires healthcare professionals to present proof of vaccination or recovery in mid-March has run into difficulties, though Germany’s highest court last week refused to temporarily block the implementation.

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