Angela Merkel and the exit debate

Angela Merkel and the exit debate

People should stay at home, there are billion dollar loans for companies that are stumbling. In the Corona struggle, the government sticks to its strategy. But one question is becoming more pressing: What will happen after Easter?


The Chancellor is back. Angela Merkel left her Berlin apartment for the first time at the end of last week – after two weeks of quarantine at home. Now she is again in the chancellery in front of journalists. Almost as before, there would still not be the large safety gaps between the reporters’ chairs.

Gone are the days of creaking press conferences by phone. A bit of normalcy is back in political Berlin.

The big question these days is: when does this apply to the entire country?

The government had long blocked all public discussions about a return to everyday life in Germany. The concern was too great that many people could deduce from this that everything has already been overcome – and ignore all still existing contact closures.

By April 19, when the Easter holidays are over, public life should largely stand still. Only then can you think about easing. So far, that was the motto.

Wrong signal warnings

On Monday, top politicians warned vehemently of the so-called exit debate. As long as it was not certain that the health system would no longer be overloaded, one should not “relax measures and also not lose discipline”, warned Hamburg Mayor Peter Tschentscher (SPD) in the “FAZ”.

Thuringias left-wing Prime Minister Bodo Ramelow warned in the “world” of a “wrong signal”. It was negligent to “put opportunities in the room that are currently simply not objectively available”.

The pitch in Berlin has meanwhile changed. Merkel explicitly repeats the announcements from her latest video podcast when she appears at the Chancellery. In it, the CDU politician had reminded people of the valid exit restrictions with a view to the Easter holidays. However, she also said this: “Day and night”, she is thinking about a process “that will make public life possible step by step”.

The federal government is currently sticking to its previous strategy in the fight against the consequences of corona. A strategy that essentially consists of bans on the population and aid for the stumbling economy.

For example, a two-week quarantine obligation should apply to returnees from abroad. At the same time, small and medium-sized companies should now be able to obtain loans from the state development bank KfW more easily – to prevent a wave of bankruptcies.

Plan for after that

Irrespective of this, the government has itself made the process described by Merkel an issue. It is about a plan for how the strict conditions in Germany can be relaxed again – without the health system collapsing in the coming months. Because the experts largely agree on one thing: a vaccine that can be used to sustainably defeat the virus will probably not be available until 2021.

For example, the government is openly discussing a means by which the spread of corona can be controlled without extensive contact blocks: an app could be available in just a few days to warn people when they have had contact with an infected person. Office head Helge Braun said in the morning to the broadcaster n-tv that the app would be “an important improvement”.

How far the easing exercises have already progressed internally is shown in a concept paper in which the Interior Ministry outlines a possible way out of the lockdown. Under certain conditions, schools, shops and restaurants could gradually reopen. The prerequisites for this would be an expansion of test capacities and the strict isolation of infected people. But also: a mouthguard and mask requirement.

The government has since given up its initially negative attitude towards protective masks in everyday life. Although it has so far been difficult to supply hospitals and care facilities with the urgently needed material. The cabinet agreed on Monday to advance the production of masks domestically. Or as Merkel says: You need “a certain level of sovereignty” when it comes to protective equipment.

Pressure from the economy

The calls for a serious exit debate had recently grown louder. Business representatives put pressure on them, warning of the profound economic consequences of a long-standing standstill in the country. At the same time, experts are concerned about the social impact of the shutdown.

At the same time, however, the number of infections also indicates that the previous measures are taking effect. A relaxation that would give the hospitals air is at least becoming apparent. Recently, the number of registered cases has increased less.

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) is currently looking particularly at the so-called reproductive rate. RKI boss Lothar Wieler pointed out last week that this would have to fall below one in order for the epidemic to recede. That means: An infected person can only infect less than another person on average. It would be another prerequisite for easing the restrictions. According to the RKI, the rate was recently one. So the trend is right.

Austria may be showing how it could work in Germany. Chancellor Sebastian Kurz announced his post-Easter plan on Monday. From April 14th, small shops and hardware stores should be allowed to reopen, from May 1st shopping centers or hairdressers. Schools, on the other hand, would have to remain closed until mid-May. Events were canceled even longer.

Merkel, on the other hand, continues to hesitate to speak of a specific exit date. And she makes one thing clear on Monday: Even if the contact blocks are loosened shortly, there can be no talk of a normal condition. Because, according to Merkel: “In any case, we continue to live in the pandemic.”

You will find all current information and recommendations from the Ministry of Health here.

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