The German parliament passed legislation on Wednesday to allow the introduction of an “emergency brake” lockdown to deal with areas suffering from high infection rates, as the country battles a third wave of coronavirus cases.
Parliamentarians from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s broad coalition backed the measure during heated debate in the Bundestag. Deputy Chancellor Olaf Scholz said clarity and consistency were needed, stressing the need for measures at the federal and not merely state level.
Health Minister Jens Spahn described the situation as “extremely serious,” with 5,000 patients in intensive care units. He noted that two-thirds of coronavirus outbreaks occurred in private situations.
But Amira Mohamed Ali of the hard-left Die Linke opposition party charged the government was seeking to curb fundamental rights “practically in passing.” And the pro-business FDP warned it could take the measures to the Constitutional Court.
The emergency brake is designed to kick in when the infection rate in a given district, as measured by the total infections over the past week per 100,000 people, reaches over 100 for three consecutive days.
During the debate in the Bundestag, police moved to break up a demonstration of some 8,000 activists opposing the new restrictions. They said the demonstrators ignored distancing rules and did not wear the surgical masks required in public areas under the current restrictions.
The demonstrators called out slogans including: “Peace, freedom, no dictatorship” and “We are the people.” A placard read: “No to a law that disempowers citizens.”
Ahead of the debate in parliament, doctors and hospitals warned of bottlenecks in medical treatment, as the number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care units remained high.
“If the infection situation does not ease over the weeks ahead, many hospitals will be at the point where operations will have to be postponed, not for a few weeks, but for months,” Gerald Gass of the DKG hospitals association said.
The measures include a night-time curfew – the most controversial of the restrictions – as well as the shutting of most shops, and a limit on gatherings to one household and one other person, although children under age 14 do not count.
Schools would have to abandon in-person classes if the incidence rate rises over 165. Funerals can have a maximum of 30 mourners present.
Many districts in the country are far above the 100 limit, meaning that if the legislation is passed in its current form by the two houses of parliament, those parts of the country would immediately go into lockdown.
The legislation could be voted upon in the upper Bundesrat chamber as soon as Wednesday evening.
Political leaders and health experts have criticized the patchwork of state-level rules to deal with the pandemic, saying they were hard for people to understand and made combatting the virus more difficult.
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