Noting that the country is in a “race” to combat the pandemic, Merkel outlined the nationwide shutdown during a news conference early on Tuesday, saying that not only will existing restrictions be extended to April 18, but that most businesses will be made to close their doors for at least five days beginning on the first of the month, just before the Easter holiday.
“We are now in a very serious situation,” the chancellor told reporters after a contentious marathon meeting with the leaders of Germany’s 16 federal states, which lasted nearly 12 hours.
During the five-day period, only shops that sell food, as well as coronavirus testing and vaccination sites, will be open across Germany, in what will likely be the country’s strictest lockdown since the pandemic kicked off in late 2019. Merkel said there should be “quiet days” and reduced social contacts in the time between April 1 and 5.
In addition to the business closures, Germans will be barred from holding private gatherings of more than five adults from two different households, while all travel abroad will be strongly discouraged. Churches have also been asked to hold virtual services only during that time, even on Easter itself.
Moreover, the new measures will make airlines responsible for testing all travelers and crew members heading back to Germany, but stopped short of mandating quarantine for anyone returning from abroad.
Though some areas of Germany have slowly started to reopen, Merkel and the regional leaders agreed that anywhere that weekly cases per 100,000 residents rise above 100, the reopening efforts must be reversed. The shutdown policies have been controversial for many Germans, prompting a wave of heated demonstrations in several cities, the last of which erupted in Kassel over the weekend and led to clashes with police.
Germany has been in some form of partial lockdown for around a full year, with several states announcing closures before any nationwide measures were implemented last March. To date, the country has tallied in excess of 2.6 million coronavirus infections and nearly 75,000 fatalities, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Around 7,700 new cases were recorded on Monday alone, Germany’s Robert Koch Institute reported.