German lawmakers vote on ’emergency brake’ virus rules
BERLIN, April 21: German lawmakers voted Wednesday on a proposal by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government to mandate uniform restrictions in areas where the coronavirus is spreading too quickly, while thousands of protesters gathered a on a nearby street.
The legislation to apply an “emergency brake” consistently in areas with high infection rates is intended to end the patchwork of measures that has often characterized the pandemic response across highly decentralized Germany’s 16 states.
The lower house of parliament was voting on the plan Wednesday. The upper house, where state governments are represented, is due to consider the legislation Thursday. If approved by both, it would apply until the end of June.
“As hard as it is, as sick of it as we are, reducing contacts helps,” Health Minister Jens Spahn told lawmakers.
“We are again seeing 5,000 Covid-19 intensive care patients and rising, with the age of the patients sinking,” Spahn said. “We want to avoid an overburdening of our health system, an overburdening that many of our neighboring countries have experienced painfully.”
Not far from the parliament’s Reichstag building, police said about 8,000 protesters assembled, few of them wearing masks. Police said they would break up the gathering after organizers failed to get participants to comply with coronavirus restrictions.
“There are some people out there today on the streets of this city who say it isn’t serious and there’s almost nothing going on,” Vice Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in parliament. “Yes, something is going on: 80,000 people in this country have died, and you can’t talk past or overlook that.”
“Because that’s the case, and because the situation is still serious, something must be done beyond what we have done so far,” Scholz said. “And what we need now is clarity and consistency for what happens when the…infection rates rise too much.”
The proposal features plans to impose a 10 p.m.-5 a.m. curfew, limit personal contacts, close leisure and sports facilities and shut or restrict access to many stores.
The measures would kick in for areas where there are more than 100 weekly new cases per 100,000 residents. Schools would have to switch to distance learning at a higher rate of 165.
Germany’s nationwide rate stood at 160 new cases per 100,000 residents on Wednesday, though there were wide regional variations.
Opposition lawmakers advanced a variety of arguments against the bill. Alexander Gauland of the far-right Alternative for Germany, which opposes lockdown measures in general, called it an “attack on rights of freedom, federalism and common sense.”
The Greens had different objections. “This emergency brake remains too half-hearted, too ineffective, too inconsistent and too disproportionate,” lawmaker Maria Klein-Schmeink said. (AP)