Angela Merkel will today consider easing restrictions on shops and schools despite a record spike in coronavirus deaths in Germany.
A panel of academics has advised Merkel to re-open primary schools ‘as soon as possible’ as the number of infections loses pace.
The chancellor will speak to the leaders of Germany’s 16 states today to discuss a possible easing from April 20, although limits on movement are likely to continue into May.
Among the issues on the table are a re-opening of shops and factories, a proposed requirement to wear masks and the merits of a smartphone tracking app.
Proposals include a possible opening of small shops, hairdressers, zoos and public libraries on May 4, although bars, restaurants and cafes will remain closed.
Germany had a setback today when 285 more deaths were added to the tally, the biggest daily spike so far.
The 285 deaths – surpassing the previous record of 266 last Friday – bring the total from 2,969 to 3,254.
Germany’s daily death toll from coronavirus reached a new peak of 285 today, surpassing the previous high of 266 which was set last Friday. Experts warn there is likely to be a time lag between a slowing infection rate and falling death rate
This graph shows the daily number of cases in Germany. Today’s figure of 2,486 is higher than yesterday’s 2,082, but still the second-lowest since March 22
Experts warn that the time lag between infection and death means a country’s death figures may continue to worsen even once the number of cases slows down.
In addition, many countries have had inflated figures at the start of the week because of a weekend backlog, a problem which may have been exacerbated by the long Easter weekend.
The number of new infections today was 2,486, higher than yesterday’s 2,082 but still the second-lowest figure since March 22.
The 2.0 per cent increase in cases brings the overall tally from 125,098 to 127,584.
Germany also has a keen eye on the rate of contagion, known as R, which shows how quickly the virus is spreading.
The rate is currently around 1.2, meaning that each person with the virus infects another 1.2 people on average.
‘It is really in our interest that this R rate goes below 1, or is at 1. That is an important factor,’ said Lothar Wieler, head of the Robert Koch diseases institute.
‘We can’t speak of containment yet – we still have high numbers each day. We are seeing a slowdown,’ he said.
Angela Merkel is due to meet the leaders of Germany’s 16 states today to discuss a possible way out of the lockdown.
In recommendations sent to Merkel, an influential group of academics called for schools to re-open ‘as soon as possible’.
The Academy of Sciences Leopoldina suggests that children could return to school in classes of no more than 15 at a time in order to enforce social distancing.
Nicknamed the ‘Merkel whisperers’, the panel of experts have called for a ‘gradual resumption of economic and social activity’ as the epidemic eases.
Health department workers in protective gear check the body temperatures of Romanian seasonal workers who arrived at Germany’s Hahn Airport on Monday
Kindergartens and primary schools should re-open first because parents of younger children will benefit more from the resumption of daily childcare, the experts say.
There would also have to be staggered break times so that the school playground does not become a breeding ground for the virus, they warn.
Children should initially study a bare-bones curriculum of German, maths and foreign languages as schools make a gradual return to normality, they suggest.
However, universities and other higher education institutions should stick to online teaching for the summer term, the experts advise.
RKI chief Wieler said there were ‘no major differences’ between his view of the situation and the Academy’s, apart from ‘small details’ such as which age groups should return to school first.
‘There is still no blueprint’ for how to reopen a society and economy after the virus lockdown, he added, and ‘not always a right and wrong’ answer.
Merkel has said that the Academy’s position paper will be important for her determination on the path forward.
This diagram shows the different containment strategies in six European countries. Germany’s lockdown is among the less stringent of the six
Germany has also closed shops, restaurants, playgrounds and sports facilities, and many companies have shut to aid the fight against the coronavirus.
Berlin mayor Michael Mueller told broadcaster RBB yesterday that the lockdowns could be relaxed ‘at the earliest from April 27, or possibly from May 1’.
Much of the early decision-making was left to Germany’s 16 states, of which Berlin is one.
Federal economy minister Peter Altmaier declined to name a date for the relaxation of restrictions.
‘The next few days will bring clarity,’ he said on breakfast television, adding that the government was keenly aware of the risks of lifting restrictions too early only to have to impose a full lockdown later.
‘If the impression arises that there is to-ing and fro-ing, it would damage trust in politics and harm the peoples’ willingness to be disciplined and to cooperate,’ Altmaier said. ‘We have to consider every step.’
Neighbouring Austria has already taken steps out of the lockdown, opening small shops yesterday with a view to opening larger ones on May 1.
However, schools in Austria are set to remain closed until mid-May along with hotels and restaurants.