German lockdown loopholes criticized as deaths hit new high

International

A volunteer stands inside the new open Erika-Hess-Eisstadion vaccine center in Berlin, Germany, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. (Kay Nietfeld/Pool vis AP)

Germany has too many loopholes in its coronavirus lockdown rules, the head of the country’s disease control agency said as figures published Thursday showed the highest number of daily deaths since the start of the pandemic.

The Robert Koch Institute said 1,244 deaths from COVID-19 were confirmed in one day up to Thursday, taking the total number to 43,881. There were also 25,164 newly confirmed cases, putting Germany’s total known infections close to 2 million.

Lothar Wieler, president of the institute, said data indicated people in Germany are traveling more than during the first phase of the pandemic in spring, contributing to the virus’ spread.

German authorities have imposed restrictions on social contacts, largely closed schools and limited travel for those in areas with high infection rates, but the rules aren’t uniformly enforced across the country’s 16 states.

“To me, these measures we’re now taking aren’t a complete lockdown,” said Wieler. “There are still too many exceptions and they aren’t being strictly implemented.”

Officials are considering tougher restrictions to curb the continued rise in infections.

The 7-day rolling average of daily new cases has risen over the past two weeks from 23.36 per 100,000 people on Dec. 30 to 26.03 per 100,000 people on Jan. 13.

Wieler pointed to the sharp spike in infections recently seen in Ireland as an example of how quickly the outbreak can escalate again if rules are relaxed, especially given the new seemingly more contagious variant of the virus circulating there and in neighboring Britain.

All infections with the variants so far confirmed in Germany involved people who had traveled outside the country, said Wieler.

“We need to be very careful, especially of the British mutation of this virus,” Ralph Brinkhaus, the parliamentary leader of Merkel’s bloc, told broadcaster n-tv. ”So we don’t yet know what further measures will be necessary in coming weeks.”

To ease the strain on working families having to look after school-age children and discourage them from using emergency care facilities, parliament passed a bill Thursday doubling the amount of paid parental leave to 40 days for 2021. Public health insurances will pay out up to 112.88 euros ($137) a day to parents if they stay home to care for children under 12 who couldn’t go to school because of the pandemic.

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