Merkel, Scholz to discuss tougher COVID curbs with regional leaders

Europe's biggest economy has over the last weeks began requiring people to prove they are vaccinated, have recovered from COVID-19 or recently tested negative before they can travel on public transport or enter workplaces.

FILE: In this file photo taken on August 25, 2021 German Finance Minister, Vice-Chancellor and the Social Democratic SPD party's candidate for Chancellor Olaf Scholz stands next to German Chancellor Angela Merkel ahead a plenary session at the German lower house of parliament Bundestag in Berlin. Tobias Schwarz / AFP

BERLIN - Chancellor Angela Merkel and her successor in waiting Olaf Scholz will hold talks on Tuesday with leaders of Germany's 16 states on toughening restrictions to halt a surge of coronavirus infections, political sources told AFP.

Europe's biggest economy has over the last weeks began requiring people to prove they are vaccinated, have recovered from COVID-19 or recently tested negative before they can travel on public transport or enter workplaces.

Several of the worst-hit areas have gone further, cancelling large events like Christmas markets and barring the unvaccinated from bars, gyms and leisure facilities.

But with infections shooting to new records day after day, calls have grown louder for further curbs.

On Monday, Germany's weekly infection rate soared to another all-time high of 452.4 per 100,000 people over the last seven days.

As Germany's states have significant powers to decide their own restrictions, the country has often found itself with a patchwork of rules.

At the weekend, Cologne's football stadium was packed with 50,000 fans while in Leipzig, the game was played to empty stands.

Merkel's spokesman said it was "difficult to understand" why local authorities allowed so many in at Cologne stadium, "at a time when hard-hit regions are cancelling Christmas markets and tough measures are being introduced".

Local officials in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia said Cologne's full stadium was justified because supporters had to show they were fully vaccinated or recovered before entering.

Germany's interior ministry also slammed the inconsistent rules that have emerged.

"This unevenness across different states when it comes to large events, and not just sports, is extremely unsatisfactory," said Steve Alter, the spokesman for acting Interior Minister Horst Seehofer.

At their talks on Tuesday, the leaders are likely to discuss a planned verdict from the Federal Constitutional Court on the so-called emergency brake.

The mechanism allows far-reaching measures like curfews or school closures to be undertaken when infection rates reach certain levels.

While the emergency brake has since been replaced by other regulations, the leading politicians are expecting the court to provide its view on measures such as contact restrictions and curfews.

Such measures could yet be deployed in the ongoing battle against the pandemic.