The Bundestag is convening to vote on a set of measures proposed by the parties likely to make up the next federal government.
Among other things, they want to require bus and train passengers to provide proof of vaccination, COVID-19 recovery, or a recent negative test, and to introduce strict penalties of up to five years in prison for forgers of coronavirus documents and certificates. Measures will not include school closures, blanket travel restrictions, or mandatory vaccination.
The vote is seen as a major test for the coalition of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), Green Party, and the neoliberal Free Democrats (FDP) who are set to replace Angela Merkel’s grand coalition government of center-right Christian Democrats ( CDU / CSU) and SPD.
‘No plan for the pandemic’
The “epidemic situation of national concern” is the legal basis for Germany’s federal and state governments to impose restrictions. It expires on November 25, after which Germany’s current set of coronavirus regulations would no longer be valid.
In a heated debate, Sabine Dittmar of the SPD described the law as “unconstitutional” and laid the blame for the current situation at the door of the outgoing government, led by the CDU.
“This would be easier if more people were vaccinated,” she added. “If we were further with booster vaccinations. My urgent call is – vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate!”
By removing the epidemic situation, the SPD wants to ensure that rules like nationwide school closures and lockdowns will no longer be legal.
But the CDU has launched into opposition mode, demanding that the emergency provisions that have shaped so much of the pandemic response in Germany be extended.
Stephan Stracke accused the new coalition government of making their “first mistake.”
“Case numbers are going up – and you are reducing restrictions. That is a mistake,” he said, addressing the prospective coalition parties. “All this means – you do not have a plan for the pandemic.”
‘G’ rules up for debate
The current rules under discussion are referred to as 3G and 2G. The former refers to allowing those who are vaccinated, recovered or freshly tested into public spaces like restaurants or bars, while the latter excludes tests. Many German states have moved from a 3G to a 2G model in recent weeks. The SPD and their allies want 3G and 2G rules to be extended to other parts of public life.
Katrin Göring-Eckhardt of the Green party joined her prospective future coalition partners in calling for the end of the epidemic situation, pointing out that they had no intention to act like the pandemic is over.
And Marco Buschmann of the FDP rejected accusations that letting the epidemic situation expire did not mean failing to recognize the dramatic nature of the situation.
The situation is particularly difficult where vaccination rates are low and infection rates high, said Buschmann. That is “especially the case in Saxony and Bavaria.”
Extending the special regulations beyond November 25 would only make sense if the government wanted to implement blanket business closures or lockdowns, including school closures. This, Buschmann insisted, is something that the FDP vehemently oppose.
But the CDU / CSU insist that the high number of cases might mean measures like this are once more necessary.
Tino Chrupalla of the far-right populist AfD expressed skepticism about how much vaccines have helped. His party is home to a substantial number of vaccine skeptics and coronavirus deniers. The AfD described many of Germany’s lockdown restrictions in its 2021 election manifesto as “disproportionate,” saying that many should be scrapped. It has also challenged several of them in court.
A number of the AfD members of parliament are currently unable to sit in the main plenary hall of the Bundestag, as they refuse to ascribe to 3G rules – they will not allow themselves to be vaccinated or tested.
A third of Germans unvaccinated
More than 65,000 new infections were registered across the country in 24 hours. Health officials are warning that the number is likely to at least double.
Here is the link to the dashboard from Germany’s health authority, the Robert Koch Institute, showing COVID infection numbers in Germany.
Meanwhile the 16 state premiers will be meeting Thursday afternoon to seek a unified approach to coronavirus rules and restrictions, amid a patchwork of strategies across the country.
They are expected to debate issues such as rules on who can access public services, hospital capacity alert thresholds, and how to boost Germany’s vaccination quota of around only 68%.
This article will be expanded as the day progresses to reflect the latest developments.
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