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Germany eases lockdown as Merkel hails end of pandemic first phase

Under measures agreed with Germany’s 16 federal state leaders, people from two households will be allowed to meet, and more shops will open, provided hygiene measures are in place.

This videograb taken from German TV channel ARD on 18 March 2020 shows German Chancellor Angela Merkel addressing the nation on the spread of the new coronavirus COVID-19 at the Chancellery in Berlin. Picture: AFP

BERLIN - Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday announced steps to ease the coronavirus lockdown, saying the first phase of the pandemic had passed but there was still a long way to go.

Germany went into lockdown in March to slow the spread of the virus. Its reproduction rate has been falling for several days, and Merkel said it was now consistently below 1 - meaning a person with the virus infects fewer than one other on average.

“We are at a point where our goal of slowing the spread of the virus has been achieved and we have been able to protect our health system... so it has been possible to discuss and agree on further easing measures,” Merkel told reporters.

Under measures agreed with Germany’s 16 federal state leaders, people from two households will be allowed to meet, and more shops will open, provided hygiene measures are in place. But guidelines on keeping a distance of 1.5 metres and wearing mouth and nose masks on public transport will remain.

Germany’s Bundesliga soccer league can resume in the second half of May, Merkel said.

People in care homes may again receive regular visits from “a permanent contact person”, Merkel said after talks with regional leaders.

Their plan included a fail-safe ‘emergency brake’, so restrictions would be reintroduced if an area registers more than 50 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants within seven days.

The federal and state governments would wait and see how the easing measures panned out, Merkel said, adding: “We now face a phase in which there will be a lot more contact than was the case up to now.”

“We are following a bold path,” she said. “We can afford to be a bit bold but we must remain cautious.”