German governor's plan to end blanket virus rules criticized

May 24, 2020 - 12:02 pm

BERLIN (AP) — A German state governor’s proposal to end blanket coronavirus restrictions in his region, which would be a first for the country after a comparatively successful response to the pandemic, drew mounting criticism Sunday from other officials.

Bodo Ramelow, the governor of the eastern state of Thuringia, said Saturday that he hopes to lift the remaining statewide lockdown rules on June 6 and replace them with “a concept of recommendations and fighting COVID-19 locally if infection figures rise.”

It’s not clear yet exactly how that would work, but Ramelow's idea centers on taking action in individual cities or counties if they report 35 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants within a week. That's a lower threshold than the 50 that is currently the national standard.

In Germany, state governments are responsible for imposing and lifting lockdown restrictions. All 16 states currently have coronavirus rules, including physical distancing requirements and an obligation to wear masks in public transport and shops, and Thuringia's new approach would raise pressure on other states to ease their lockdowns further.

Germany started easing lockdown restrictions on April 20. So far, new coronavirus infections have continued to decline overall — though outbreaks at several slaughterhouses have caused concern recently, as have infections after a Baptist service in Frankfurt and at a restaurant in the country's northwest.

While Ramelow’s proposal draw some praise, there was criticism from the mayor of one of the state’s biggest cities, Jena, which pioneered requiring people to wear face masks in some situations. Thomas Nitzsche compared the proposed change in a Facebook post to “entering a mine field.”

The chief of staff of neighboring Bavaria's governor bluntly rejected Ramelow's idea, saying his government was “appalled.”

“Thuringia's plans are a highly dangerous experiment for everyone in this country,” Florian Herrmann told the Bild newspaper. “Lifting all protective measures comes too soon and isn't appropriate in the current situation, because the virus hasn't yet been defeated.”

Saarland governor Tobias Hans was more diplomatic, but told the daily Die Welt that even as restrictions are loosened “we still need rules set by the state so that imperatives of caution are complied with, to avoid regional lockdowns and higher death rates.”

Lorenz Caffier, the interior minister of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania state, told Sunday’s Bild am Sonntag newspaper: “I think a complete, fast loosening (of restrictions) is premature.”

Germany has reported some 180,000 cases of the coronavirus and nearly 8,300 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. That is a lower death rate than in several other European countries.

Thuringia's overall infection rate is below Germany's national average.

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