Germany Measures of the Federal Government

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+++ Tuesday, March 2nd +++

The Corona pandemic has threatened the existence of numerous non-profit institutions for children and youth education. These include, for example, youth hostels, school hostels, youth education centres and initiatives for family camps.

This is why Federal Minister for Family Affairs Franziska Giffey has extended the special programme for non-profit child and youth education institutions. 100 million euros are thus available for 2021. Last year, the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs had already supported these non-profit institutions with a short-term 100 million euro special programme.

“Youth hostels, school hostels, family holiday centres or youth education centres are important components of our social infrastructure and a special treasure that we must preserve,” Giffey explained. When travelling and meeting in larger groups are possible again, our society will need these places of encounter more urgently than ever, she emphasised.

Submit applications from now on

The new edition of the special programme is intended to alleviate financial hardship for non-profit overnight accommodation facilities in the field of children’s and youth education in the period from the beginning of January to the end of June 2021. Applications can be submitted from now until 28 March 2021.

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Since March 1st, visits to the hairdresser’s have been possible again nationwide – under corresponding hygiene conditions. For example, access must be controlled with reservations and surgical or FFP masks must be worn.

The opening of hairdressing establishments had been envisaged by the federal and state governments in their recent meeting to combat the Corona pandemic. This was also done against the background of the importance of hairdressers for personal hygiene and the fact that they had already been closed for some time. Significant sections of the population depend on visiting hairdressers, especially the elderly, they said.

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The first time the Corona warning app is called up after the update to version 1.13, a pop-up window opens in which users can activate a data donation. Once activated, the app transmits to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) whether there is a red or a green tile, i.e. a low or increased risk. Users also have the option of specifying their federal state, district and age in the app settings.

This enables the RKI experts to establish a possible connection between warnings and local incidence. The voluntary donation of data by users can help to evaluate the effectiveness of the app and improve it further.

No conclusions about individual persons

As soon as data donation is activated, the released data is automatically transmitted in the background. Of course, the release for data donation can be deactivated in the app settings at any time. It is also important that the data donation does not allow any conclusions to be drawn about individual persons, so that the privacy of the user is protected.

Link to RKI survey in case of increased risk

If a red tile is displayed in the app, those affected will in future automatically receive a link to a survey by the RKI. The purpose of the survey is to analyse and better understand the effectiveness of the app by allowing experts to learn more about users’ behaviour before the risk calculation and their planned behaviour afterwards. Based on this feedback, the Corona warning app can be further improved.

 

+++ Monday, March 1st +++

On Sunday, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) classified the French department of Moselle near the border as a so-called virus variant area as of 00:00 on 2 March. Virus variant areas are areas in which a particularly high risk of infection with the coronavirus has been identified because certain novel and more dangerous variants of the coronavirus have become widespread in this risk area.

In order to protect against the spread of viral mutations, persons entering Germany from the Département Moselle must be able to prove that they are not infected with the coronavirus as of 2 March. A negative test result by means of PCR or PoC antigen test is considered as proof. The federal and state police forces will intensify controls.

Further information on this topic is available on the websites of the Federal Foreign Office, the Federal Ministry of the Interior and the Federal Ministry of Health.

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Due to the pandemic, there are special regulations for entering Germany. From 1 March 2021, German mobile network operators will send up-to-date corona information from the Federal Government to persons entering Germany by short message on the basis of section 36, paragraph 10, sentence 1, number 3 of the Infection Protection Act in conjunction with section 8 of the Coronavirus Entry Ordinance.

Persons entering the Federal Republic of Germany will receive this text as of 00.00 hrs on 1 March:

The Federal Government: Welcome/Welcome! Please follow the rules on tests/quarantine; please follow the rules on tests/quarantine

Via the short link, arrivals receive compact information on their obligations in connection with the coronavirus, i.e. quarantine and testing, as well as information on the essential infection protection measures to be observed, for example the obligation to wear a mask. In addition, further information is available on the websites of the Federal Government, the Ministry of Health and the RKI.

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With the Social Protection Package III, those suffering from the economic effects of the pandemic can receive assistance beyond 31 March until 31 December 2021. In addition, those entitled to benefits will receive a one-off payment of 150 euros. With this, the federal government will help them finance corona-related additional or increased expenses, such as protective masks and rapid tests. The German Bundestag has approved the Social Protection Package III.

Child bonus, value-added tax, loss carry-back

With the third tax assistance law, the federal government wants to support families, the catering industry and businesses during the pandemic. For example, parents will receive a one-time child bonus of 150 euros for each child entitled to child benefit in 2021. The VAT rate for meals in restaurants and pubs will remain lowered from 19 to 7 percent until 31 December. For companies, the tax loss carryback for the years 2020 and 2021 will be extended again and increased to 10 million euros or 20 million euros in the case of joint assessment. The Bundestag also approved this law on Friday.

The Bundesrat will then deal with the legislation.

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The strategy of vaccinating first those who are particularly vulnerable and who have an increased risk of a severe or even fatal course is working. The 7-day incidence in the over-80 age group was still almost 200 at the beginning of February, now it is around 70, said Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn on Friday.

“Almost all residents of old people’s homes and nursing homes have now received a first vaccination offer. Many have also already received their second vaccination,” the minister said. This vaccination strategy is costly and takes longer. “But it saves lives.”

Vaccination and testing can provide more safety

In the coming weeks, the number of vaccine doses available will continue to increase significantly. About eleven million vaccine doses are expected to have been delivered to countries in total. “There is still too much vaccine in the refrigerator,” said Spahn. Therefore, medical practices will gradually be able to be involved in vaccination management. “Vaccination paves the way out of the pandemic. Nevertheless, it will not be a walk in the park. The mutations make this path arduous and more difficult,” said Spahn. “We will have to learn to live with this virus along the way.”

Increased testing could provide additional security. There are now enough rapid tests on the market to offer them much more widely than before. “With the approval of self-tests or self-tests, we get another instrument for the pandemic toolbox,” Spahn said. “Caution, vaccination, testing – these are three important components for our way forward.”

Case numbers and seven-day incidence stagnate

RKI President Lothar Wieler reiterated how safe and effective all licensed vaccines are. “The vaccines protect and they are the direct common way out of the pandemic,” Wieler said. She said there was great new data from other countries that showed very, very clearly the effectiveness of all the vaccines approved so far. Wieler pointed out that after initial declines, case numbers are currently stagnating overall. The nationwide 7-day incidence has also levelled off at around 60. “That is why it is more important than ever that we all continue to implement the measures consistently.”

 

+++ Friday, February 26th +++

Chancellor Merkel has coordinated with the EU heads of state and government on the further course of action in the Corona pandemic. At the start of their consultations, the heads of state and government exchanged views on the current situation. The number of infections in many Member States remains high. In view of the virus mutants, especially from Great Britain, some states see themselves in a difficult situation and are extremely cautious about opening strategies, said Chancellor Merkel after the consultations on Thursday evening.

Producing more vaccine

An important topic was the use and production of vaccines. The vaccination campaign had started slowly, Merkel said. She pointed out that logistically everything had to be prepared in a few weeks in order to actually vaccinate the vaccines that had been made available.

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had explained to the heads of state and government what quantities of vaccine the manufacturers had promised, the Chancellor said. Because of the possible mutations, she said, one must be prepared to carry out corona vaccinations for years, as with the flu vaccination.

In this context, the EU Commission has set up a task force under the leadership of EU Commissioner Breton, Merkel continued. The question here is “how production capacities can be created along the entire supply chain, if possible within the EU, in order to produce vaccines”, Merkel explained.

In addition, the authority wants to create the so-called HERA Incubator. It is intended to bring together research, industry and authorities in order to be able to react more decisively to variants. to challenges. The Commission will develop the corresponding institutional model here in the coming months. All heads of state and government had supported this.

Maintaining the internal market as far as possible

With regard to the mutated variants of the virus, the Heads of State and Government also discussed entry restrictions and border controls. Germany and other Member States had taken these measures to contain the entry of virus variants into border regions with a high incidence of infection.

“I explained for Germany that in certain cases – and we are not the only ones – we feel compelled to also introduce certain restrictions if there are either high-incidence or mutation areas.” However, he said, every effort is being made to make the free movement of goods possible and, for example, to enable commuters to work through testing.

Digital proof of vaccination

The European Council also discussed the Europe-wide introduction of a digital vaccination certificate. “Here, everyone agrees that we need something like this,” said the Chancellor.

Merkel expects the EU states to have developed digital vaccination cards within three months and the Commission to have created the technical requirements. These vaccination cards would be compatible with each other via the so-called European level gateway, she explained. “This will make it possible to travel with more information within the European Union” and perhaps it would also become the basis for entries from third countries into the European Union.

In the circle of the 27 governments, she said, it was agreed that this vaccination passport for travelling was not at all important at the moment, given the low vaccination numbers. However, preparations must be made. Moreover, the vaccination certificate alone could not determine who could travel. Tests could also contribute to this.

Discussions on security and defence

On Friday morning, the heads of state and government will continue their consultations. They will again discuss EU-Nato cooperation in a video conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

In addition, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, will join them and report on the current state of work on the Strategic Compass. This sets the direction for future EU action in the field of security and defence.

The leaders will also discuss how to strengthen the EU’s resilience, especially against cyber attacks and hybrid threats.

EU leaders will also discuss relations with the Southern Neighbourhood. Building on the European Council conclusions adopted on this in December 2020, the discussion will resume on Friday.

Together against Corona – why is that important? The Corona pandemic is a challenge across national borders. This is especially true in the EU as an area without internal borders. Only through close pan-European cooperation can the pandemic be successfully contained. It is therefore important that member states closely coordinate joint action.

EU cooperation on security and defence – why is this important? The number of conflicts in the EU’s neighbourhood has increased. No country in the EU can tackle these challenges alone. It is therefore important that EU member states work closely together on security and defence policy. If the EU contributes to stability in the region, people’s lives will also become safer.

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The German government wants to effectively combat the pandemic with a comprehensive vaccination programme for the entire population. To this end, a Vaccine Production Task Force has been set up to coordinate the timely production and distribution of vaccines against the coronavirus. The task of the new task force is to counteract any bottlenecks in vaccine production in cooperation with the companies concerned. The Vaccine Production Task Force also serves as a point of contact for industry and the EU.

Sufficient vaccine for all citizens

The Vaccine Production Taskforce, set up by the Ministries of Health, Finance and Economic Affairs, aims to advance three main objectives:

– Support the production processes to provide the required vaccine doses for all vaccine-ready citizens in 2021,

– flank the establishment of a sufficient industrial structure to supply the population in Germany with vaccines,

– contribute to securing Germany as a research and production location for vaccine production throughout the EU.

The task force is to report to a committee of state secretaries, which has also been newly established and is headed by Andreas Feicht, State Secretary for Economic Affairs. The task force itself will be headed by Christoph Krupp, Director of the Federal Real Estate Agency.

 

+++ Thursday, February 25th +++

The Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM) has granted the first special approvals for three antigen tests that can be used by laypersons as self-tests. For all tests, the samples must be taken by swabbing the anterior nasal region.

The BfArM has the option of granting temporary approval for medical devices that have not undergone a regular assessment procedure for CE marking. This is the case if it is in the interest of health protection. The CE mark means that a manufacturer must prove through a defined assessment procedure that his product meets all EU-wide requirements for safety, health protection and environmental protection. This is a prerequisite for marketing products in the EU.

The self-tests have a higher error rate than the PCR tests. Therefore, after every positive self-test, a PCR test should always be done for confirmation. For Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn, it is important that the lay self-tests have been properly tested in an approval procedure such as this. He expects further approvals by the BfArM in the near future. For him, it is not enough for the manufacturers to sign a piece of paper saying that the tests are good. He wants proven good quality.

“Corona doesn’t just give up, but we have more means to deal with it every day and testing makes an important contribution to that,” the Federal Health Minister said in the German Bundestag on Wednesday.

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As of Wednesday, 24 February, employees in day-care centres, in child day-care, in primary and special schools can be vaccinated in the respective federal states. The corresponding ordinance thus comes into force. “This provides additional safety in an environment where spacing and masking are not always possible,” Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn announced on Twitter.

In addition, vaccinations of police officers have started or will start soon in some federal states. Information on the vaccination centres in your region and on how to make an appointment can be found on the information pages of your federal state. As a result, those persons who are exposed to a very high occupational risk of exposure and those who occupy a key position in central areas of public services and for the maintenance of central state functions are now entitled to vaccination as a further group of persons to be vaccinated as a priority.

 

+++ Wednesday February 24th+++

Partly because of the virus variants with an increased risk of infection, the time span for filtering out short contacts has been reduced from ten to five minutes in the Corona warning app since Tuesday. What this means – an overview.

What changes have been made to the Corona warning app?

A contact between two people is now already taken into account after five minutes and not, as was previously the case, only after an encounter of at least ten minutes. This adjustment has been made after extensive tests by the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits. By adjusting the epidemiological model of the risk calculation, the experts expect a moderate increase in the recorded low-risk encounters, which are marked “green” in the app. Users of the Corona warning app who are out and about more often will therefore again have slightly more low-risk encounters displayed in their app than those who stay at home.

Since the end of 2020, the Corona Warning app has been using the interface further developed by Google and Apple, the so-called Exposure Notification Framework Version 2 (ENF V2). This has enabled the developers to improve the risk calculation: Encounters with low risk (green warning) are filtered better since then.

What effects does the adaptation have?

The result is that actually relevant contacts with Covid-19 infected persons can be recognised even more precisely and are subsequently displayed in the app as encounters with increased risk. A slight increase in “red” warnings is expected. The reason for this is that under ENF V2, average values for all encounters with another device during the course of the day are no longer considered, but rather a 30-minute time window. Several “green” encounters can therefore lead to a red status overall. Read more explanations about the technical background of the risk calculation under ENF V2 on the Corona Warning App page.

In recent weeks, the Fraunhofer Institute has conducted extensive tests as part of its accompanying investigations. In the process, the details of the time recording and the distance estimation by Bluetooth LE (Low Energy) – on which the risk calculation of the Corona warning app is based – were tested under the further developed interface (ENF V2) in various situations.

According to which criteria are possible risk encounters evaluated?

For an encounter to be assessed as a possible risk encounter by the Corona Warning App, it must have been epidemiologically relevant. This means that there must have been a risk of infection. The Bluetooth technology with which the app works makes it possible to work with two parameters: the duration of an encounter and the distance between the users. Both are calculated with the help of various measurements and a threshold value is stored.

If an encounter occurs, short-lived random codes are exchanged between the users concerned. These random codes are stored for 14 days exclusively on the smartphones of the users concerned who have met and are matched with so-called positive identifiers of Corona-positive tested persons directly on the person’s smartphone.

Three different statuses

For the app, encounters with a Corona-positive tested person who exceeds a threshold of different readings are considered risk encounters. People using the app are shown their risk status depending on these values. There are three statuses:

– Low risk: The person is informed that the risk check of their encounter record did not reveal any encounters with proven corona-positive tested persons or that any encounters were not above the defined threshold. The person is informed about generally applicable distance regulations and hygiene recommendations.

– Increased risk: The person is informed that the risk review of their encounter record has revealed an increased risk of infection due to encounters with at least one Corona-positive tested person within the past 14 days. The person is advised to go home if possible or to stay at home and to contact their GP, the medical on-call service on 116117 or the public health department to discuss further action.

– Unknown risk: If the risk identification was not activated long enough by the person, no risk of infection could be calculated at this time. The person receives the status display “unknown risk”. At the latest 24 hours after installation, a risk determination is possible, so that the status display will switch from “unknown” to “low” or “increased”.

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In the summer of 2020, the proportion of very lonely people aged 46 to 90 was just under 14 percent, 1.5 times higher than in previous years. This was the result of a survey conducted by the German Centre of Gerontology (DZA) in June/July 2020 as part of the German Ageing Survey (DEAS) on behalf of the BMFSFJ. People between the ages of 46 and 90 living at home were surveyed.

“Loneliness has become an issue especially in pandemic times. This is true for everyone. But older people in particular who suffer from loneliness are often not seen,” said Federal Family Minister Franziska Giffey.

Measures against loneliness

The Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (BMFSFJ) has for some time now been promoting various services that help to prevent and combat loneliness. These range from multi-generation houses and telephone counselling to newly launched model projects against loneliness. They also include the federal model programme to strengthen the participation of older people with funding from the European Social Fund (ESF) and a model project of the Malteser Hilfsdienst for contact and community in old age.

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The spread of the coronavirus has led to restrictions in many areas of private and economic life. The law to mitigate the consequences of the Corona pandemic in insolvency law initially applied until 31 January 2021. In the meantime, the suspension of the obligation to file for insolvency has been extended until the end of April 2021. This will cushion the consequences of the pandemic for the economy.

Financial aid must be used

The extension will benefit debtors who are entitled to financial aid from the Corona aid programmes that have been set up and whose payment is still outstanding. The basic prerequisite is that the aid is applied for by 28 February 2021 and that the aid that can be obtained is suitable for eliminating insolvency maturity. However, the filing of an application is exceptionally not relevant if it is not possible to apply for the assistance by 28 February 2021 for legal or factual reasons. In these cases, the eligibility to apply is to be taken into account.

Difficulties must be pandemic-related

However, the suspension of the obligation to apply for aid only applies if the crisis is pandemic-related and payment of the aid can be expected. Finally, the state funds must give the company a chance to survive.

The new regulations have come into force retroactively and have thus seamlessly followed the existing law.

 

+++ Tuesday, February 23rd+++

Where does my data go? Who am I giving it to right now? How does it happen that I get advertising that seems to be tailored to me? – It is important that citizens understand what is happening in the digital world, explains German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the virtual discussion “Initiative Digitale Bildung” on Monday. Especially in times of the pandemic, it has become clear that our lives have become more digital, the Chancellor said in advance in the podcast.

“We want to make it clear that digital education is not just something for schools or universities, but that we want to address people of all ages,” said the Chancellor. The initiative aims to bring this together into an education platform that guarantees security for users.

Digital education offers many opportunities, but also challenges, Merkel said. On the one hand, teaching can be made more interactive and more individually tailored to students. On the other hand, it is important that basic skills continue to be strengthened. With the flood of data available today, teaching could provide orientation. In addition to Chancellor Merkel and Federal Education Minister Karliczek, representatives of various educational institutions of the Länder and municipalities took part in the discussion.

 

+++ Monday, February 22nd +++

“If they get the opportunity to be vaccinated: Use it” – with this appeal, Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn ended a two-hour online discussion around the Corona vaccination. Together with RKI head Lothar Wieler, PEI president Klaus Cichutek, STIKO chairman Thomas Mertens and the deputy head of a Berlin vaccination centre, Franzi von Kempis, he answered a wide range of questions about the important topic of vaccination.

Spahn emphasised that Germany is currently in a “really difficult phase” of the pandemic. Many are tired after twelve months, “a child who is ten years old has now spent a tenth of his life in the pandemic”. On the one hand, he said, there are decreasing numbers of infections, but on the other hand, the virus variants are emerging. Vaccination gives confidence, he said, and the goal is clear: “We want to get back to our normal lives.”

Spahn expects that educators and primary school teachers will be prioritised and vaccinated in the foreseeable future. This is important for society, he said. STIKO chairman Mertens explained the reasons for the prioritisation. The proposed order was not based on the risk of infection, but on the risk of a severe course of the disease. Nevertheless, occupational groups with a high risk of infection were also considered.

Klaus Cichutek, President of the PEI, explained in detail how the approved vaccines work and also commented on the topic of side effects. Vaccinations are the “game changer” in the pandemic. All approved vaccines are effective and safe. Spahn emphasised that this also applies to the vaccine of the company AstraZeneca: “70 per cent effectiveness does not mean that 30 per cent of the people are not protected. AstraZeneca improves protection against severe COVID-19 for all vaccinated people.”

RKI head Lothar Wieler stressed that the virus will not disappear. To achieve basic immunity, there would be two options: Either go through an infection yourself or get vaccinated – “Vaccination is the much more pleasant option,” Wieler said. The current measures, such as wearing a mask and contact restrictions, would have to be maintained for a while. The behaviour of each individual is a “set screw” in the pandemic and can make a big difference.

Franzi von Kempis is the deputy head of a vaccination centre in Berlin and reported on her practical work in the field. She perceives a positive and grateful mood among the people who have received a vaccination at her centre. She made it clear that no vaccines were destroyed in her vaccination centre.

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After the virtual G7 meetings on Friday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed the importance of international cooperation in the fight against the Corona pandemic. The pandemic will only be defeated “when everyone in the world has been vaccinated”. As long as infections occur on a large scale, the virus could mutate and then the situation could arise again and again, weakening the effectiveness of the vaccines.

Germany will provide additional funding of 1.5 billion euros for the international fight against the Corona pandemic. “However, it is important to us that not only money but also vaccine arrives,” Merkel explained. She said it was about the Covax initiative being able to make contracts and get vaccines very quickly.

Covax is the vaccine pillar of the Access to Covid-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A). This was launched by the World Health Organisation together with other global actors with the aim of advancing the development, production and equitable access to vaccines, diagnostics and treatments for Covid-19 worldwide. Germany is the largest donor in this context, ahead of the US and the UK, Chancellor Merkel said. A total of 10.3 billion US dollars had been pledged for the ACT-A, 7.5 billion of which came from the G7 countries.

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Currently, 18-64 year olds in group 1 (“highest priority”) can get vaccinated with AstraZeneca’s vaccine – a highly effective and safe vaccine and one of three preparations currently licensed in the European Union.

Most importantly, the vaccine prevents COVID-19 disease in the majority of cases. And most importantly: if a vaccinated person does get sick, it prevents severe courses. No participant in the registration trials had to be hospitalised. This is the result of a current summary of the safety and efficacy of the vaccine from AstraZeneca, which was published by the Paul Ehrlich Institute (PEI).

The vaccine from AstraZeneca has passed a regular, non-abbreviated approval procedure of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and therefore all prescribed safety and efficacy tests – just like the other two vaccines from BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna that have been approved so far.

According to studies, the vaccine’s efficacy is 70 percent and thus far above the required approval value of 50 percent. This is admittedly a slightly lower efficacy than the other two vaccines approved so far. However, this does not change the fact that the AstraZeneca vaccine is safe and protects against severe disease.

What does 70 per cent efficacy mean? The value does not refer to the protection of the individual vaccinated – but to the risk of disease from a group of vaccinated people compared to a group of non-vaccinated people with a comparable risk of infection. Thus, an efficacy of 70 percent does not mean 70 percent protection of the vaccinated, but that 70 percent of the cases are prevented that would occur without vaccination.

In principle, vaccination reactions are always possible. These include, for example, pain at the injection site, headaches or fatigue – they occur relatively often after a vaccination. But they are short-lived, and they are also a natural sign of the body’s immune response to the vaccination.

The PEI constantly monitors vaccination reactions for all approved vaccines. Complications are systematically recorded and evaluated in order to be able to react.

 

+++ Thursday, February 18th +++

The virus mutations continue to spread, especially the variant that was first detected in Great Britain. While this mutant accounted for a share of just under 6 percent a fortnight ago, a good 22 percent of new infections are now attributable to this virus mutation.

This was pointed out by Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn on Wednesday at a press conference on the current Corona situation. For him, it is “encouraging” that the number of new infections is falling overall, although the proportion of virus mutants is increasing at the same time. “Our protective measures are working,” said Spahn. “It should and must only now remain so. That also means, therefore, we have to be very careful with regard to mutations when we slowly leave the lockdown now.”

More free testing for everyone from March

Testing is an important tool for the health minister in the pandemic. Significantly more rapid antigen tests are now available – “in sufficient numbers and of sufficient quality.” Therefore, the already existing testing strategy could now be expanded. From March, the minister wants to make more free tests available to everyone, for example in community test centres or pharmacies. So far, rapid tests are used in old people’s and nursing homes, in clinics and after cases of infection, for example, also in schools – currently only by trained staff.

Lay self-tests are also expected to be available soon – in the next few weeks. For the Federal Minister of Health, this is good news, because the more people can be warned whether they are infected or not, the better. But: PCR tests remain the gold standard. “They provide the most reliable results,” said Spahn. 

Vaccination campaign can gain momentum

Meanwhile, more than 700,000 nursing home residents have been vaccinated, 460,000 of them for the second time. Since not all of them accept the vaccination offer, the minister assumes that “our common goal between the federal and state governments” can be achieved, namely that “in these days, all those who want to have actually received their vaccination offer in the nursing homes.”

By the end of next week, ten million doses of vaccine will have been delivered. “This means that the vaccination campaign can now gain significant momentum,” says Spahn. His wish: to vaccinate existing vaccine doses quickly – ” so that as many people as possible receive protection.”

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In order to prevent an unchecked spread of viral mutations of the coronavirus in Germany, it is necessary to extend the transport restriction of persons entering Germany from virus variant areas to 14 days. The Federal Cabinet has decided to extend the validity of the Coronavirus Protection Ordinance until 3 March 2021. This has been in force since 17 February 2021.

Virus variant areas are areas in which there is a particular risk of entry due to the spread of mutations of the virus. These areas are published on the website of the Robert Koch Institute and adapted to current developments. With effect from 14 February 2021, the following have been classified as virus variant areas: The Czech Republic, Slovakia and Austria – in this case the federal state of Tyrol with the exception of the political district of Lienz (East Tyrol), the municipality of Jungholz and the Rißtal valley in the municipal area of Vomp and Eben am Achensee. The classification also applies to countries such as Great Britain, Ireland, Portugal, South Africa and Brazil, among others.

The provisions on entry into Germany by the Coronavirus Entry Ordinance of 14 January 2021 continue to apply in addition.

Exceptions for returning German citizens

It is still necessary to impose a transport ban on carriers and additional entry restrictions on persons from the relevant areas. This applies to the protection of the population in Germany in addition to the already existing testing and quarantine regulations. The Coronavirus Protection Ordinance is primarily aimed at carriers, i.e. companies that transport persons from a risk area in cross-border rail, bus, ship or air transport.

Exemptions for entry into Germany from virus variant areas apply, among other things, to returning German citizens and persons with residence and right of abode in Germany. A complete list of relevant exceptions to the transport ban and entry restrictions from virus variant areas can be found on the website of the Federal Ministry of the Interior.

The Federal Ministry of the Interior also provides comprehensive information on the exceptions to the entry restrictions to Austria and the Czech Republic.

It continues to apply that non-essential travel to risk areas and in particular to virus variant areas is to be urgently avoided.

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Solo self-employed persons from all sectors of the economy who suffer turnover losses in the Corona pandemic can now get a restart grant. The one-time grant amounts to a maximum of 7,500 euros for the period 1 January to 30 June.

The background: Solo self-employed persons with low fixed business costs can only apply for bridging aid to a limited extent – but they are often particularly hard hit by the existing restrictions. Due to low fixed business costs, however, they can only apply for bridging assistance to a limited extent. The new start-up aid amounts to a one-off 50 percent of a six-month reference turnover. It is granted in full if turnover has fallen by more than 60 per cent during the support period January 2021 to June 2021.

Applications can be submitted since Tuesday at www.ueberbrueckungshilfe-unternehmen.de.

 

+++ Wednesday, 17 February +++

On Tuesday, Federal Minister of Economics Peter Altmaier met with representatives of more than 40 associations at an economic summit. Among other things, Altmaier provided information on the current status of aid. The portal for Bridging Assistance III has been open since 12 February. So far, about 4,000 applications have been received, and advance payments in the “clear double-digit millions” have already been transferred. Since today, it has also been possible to apply for the new start-up assistance for the self-employed. This aid of up to 7,500 euros is part of Bridging Aid III and can “now be applied for very quickly and expeditiously”, Altmaier said.

Turnover limit for bridging assistance III falls

The Federal Ministry of Finance and the Federal Ministry of Economics had agreed to drop the previous limit of up to 750 million euros in turnover for eligibility for bridging assistance III. In addition, a hardship fund is to be set up that will enable the federal states “to react appropriately in individual cases where the fit of the aid is not sufficient,” said the Economics Minister.

In the case of the November and December aid, he said, about 90 per cent of the advance payments had now been made, and more than six billion euros had been disbursed. That is about one billion euros more than a week ago. There is “momentum in the story – and that is also urgently necessary, because those affected are in dire need of the money,” said Altmaier.

Uncertainty is the most difficult thing

In the run-up to the next federal-state consultations on the Corona pandemic, joint positions and recommendations are to be formulated by industry and economics ministers with a view to an opening strategy. Altmaier emphasised that “for many companies, uncertainty is one of the most difficult things in this process”. Despite the given imponderables and the volatility of the development, it is “justified that one deals with these questions”.

Determined to always adapt aid measures

Following the next Conference of Prime Ministers, he said, they would meet again to discuss further measures in the light of the results agreed then. “We are determined to always adapt the aid measures to the situation,” the Minister of Economic Affairs emphasised. However, if the number of cases continues to decline, there is also the “justified hope that there will be an opening perspective for many areas next time”.

 

+++ Tuesday, February 16th +++

Regular testing with Corona rapid tests could be a building block to protect professionals in day-care centres, explained Federal Family Minister Franziska Giffey. At the “Abenteuerland” daycare centre in Potsdam on Monday, she gained an insight into how rapid antigen tests can be used on site.

The day-care centres in Potsdam have been open again since the beginning of February under increased Corona protection measures. Employees test themselves twice a week for Covid-19. “The Potsdam example shows how safe opening of day-care centres can succeed through responsible measures,” Giffey said. Crucial for practicability, she said, is the ease of application of the tests through the use of saliva.

 

+++ Monday, 15 February +++

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) on Friday designated new virus variant areas with a particularly high risk of infection due to widespread occurrence of certain SarsCoV-2 virus variants: Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Austria – the province of Tyrol with the exception of the political district of Lienz (East Tyrol), the municipality of Jungholz, and the Rißtal valley in the municipal area of Vomp and Eben am Achensee.

This is the first time that neighbouring states of Germany with a common land border are virus variant areas. Therefore, measures must be taken to contain the pandemic and to strengthen protection against infection. To protect against virus mutations, the Federal Ministry of the Interior announced that entry from the corresponding virus variant areas would be restricted. Temporary border controls were also introduced towards the Czech Republic as of Sunday.

More information on the border controls can be found at the Federal Ministry of the Interior, an overview on current travel and safety advice is provided by the Federal Foreign Office.

+++

The number of cases is decreasing overall, explains the President of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), Professor Lothar Wieler. The situation in the intensive care units is stabilising, but still tense. “But nevertheless, all in all, we are on the right track,” says Wieler.

The new virus mutations with their increased infectivity have received “a boost”. Therefore, it is central for the RKI president to continue to prevent the spread of the virus. We can do that, he appeals, if everyone sticks to the rules and continues to reduce contacts.

All measures that hinder the spread of the Corona virus also help with other infectious diseases. “The flu wave has failed to materialise so far, worldwide by the way,” Wieler said. But other infectious diseases of the respiratory tract, diarrhoea and measles cases have also decreased. This relieves the burden on the health system – in times of a pandemic “a real plus point”.

Professor Sandra Ciesek, Director of the Institute for Medical Virology Frankfurt, explained to what extent rapid antigen tests are a good supplement to prevent the spread of the Corona virus. In a study in Hesse with teachers, it could be shown that self-testing worked well after instructions were given.

Quick tests that can be done by anyone are currently on the verge of approval. It is important that these tests “have a good quality”, says Professor Ciesek. “Quick tests do not offer 100 per cent safety.” They do not replace a medical diagnosis, but can detect infectious people, thus providing additional safety. 

Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn pointed out that the current testing regulation allows the use of rapid antigen tests. But their use for self-testing only makes sense when the quality and informative value of the products is assured, according to the Minister’s opinion.The test results should be “as correct as possible as often as possible”.

The minister announced that as of this week (from february 15th on), anyone with the appropriate symptoms can again be tested with a PCR test. From mid-November, this had not been possible due to the high number of new infections. “The capacities allow this again,” said Spahn. “If we open up now, we will gamble away the success we have had so far,” the minister said.

 

+++ Friday, February 12th +++

“We have to be persistent and patient,” Chancellor Angela Merkel told the German Bundestag on Thursday.  That was not an easy request. But Germany, she said, was no longer very far away from infection figures that could, step by step, allow openings and freedoms to be restored because the chains of infection could be traced again. “To continue all the efforts and privations now once again until 7 March to keep the mutations small and hopefully get well below the 7-day incidence of 50 is, in my view, worth the effort,” the Chancellor said in her government statement on containing the pandemic.

The federal and state governments had decided on Wednesday to extend the Corona measures – and thus above all the contact restrictions. In her government statement, Chancellor Merkel pointed out that the fact that everyone had been working together to combat the virus for a year now was a real national effort. It has been possible to prevent the health system from being overburdened. Anyone who comes to a clinic with a covid 19 disease will get the help they need anywhere in Germany, Merkel said. The chancellor stressed that the vaccines against the virus were a turning point in the pandemic.

“This winter is tough – but we have our goal more and more clearly in sight,” the Chancellor said. She added that the aim was still to achieve significantly lower numbers. “In the end, together we can manage to defeat this pandemic and lead our country back to better times.”

 

+++ Thursday, February 11th +++

The measures to combat the Corona pandemic will in principle be extended until 7 March. This is the result of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s video conference with the heads of government of the federal states on Wednesday.

The contact reductions are having an effect, Chancellor Merkel emphasised. The number of cases has dropped significantly. At the same time, new variants of the coronavirus were spreading. The mutation was a “reality”, Merkel said. The period until mid-March is therefore existential, she said. Until then, the infection numbers must continue to fall and the spread of the corona mutation must be fought, Merkel said.

Previous rules still apply

The previous resolutions continue to apply. This means: private meetings are still allowed in one’s own household and with a maximum of one other person not living in the household. In public transport and when shopping, the obligation to wear surgical masks or masks of the KN95 or FFP2 standards applies. Employers must allow employees to work from home wherever possible. Non-essential private travel and visits must be avoided.

The next steps

Looking ahead to the coming weeks and months, the Chancellor and the heads of government have determined, among other things, this further course of action:

– Schools and day-care centres: openings in this area have priority. Here, the first step is to be a gradual reopening. The resolution stipulates: the individual federal states will decide on the gradual return to face-to-face teaching and the expansion of day-care facilities. “Masks, ventilation and hygiene measures will continue to be necessary,” the resolution states. Increasingly, rapid tests are also to enable safe teaching and care in day-care centres and minimise infection risks.

– Hairdressers to open from 1 March: Subject to conditions on hygiene, controlling access with reservations and using medical masks, hairdressers will be able to reopen from 1 March.

– Further openings: The next opening step can be taken by the countries if the incidence is stable at a maximum of 35 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants. This should include the opening of the retail trade with a limit of one customer per 20 square metres, as well as museums and galleries and the still-closed body-related service businesses.

– Regional rules if the number of cases is too high: In states or counties that continue to not fall below the incidence of 50 due to their high 7-day incidence, the states or counties will maintain or expand comprehensive local or regional measures.

The Chancellor and the heads of government of the Länder have agreed to consult again on 3 March 2021.

+++

The Federal Government’s bridging aid has again been extended and simplified. On Wednesday, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy released the application for Bridging Aid III. Companies with an annual turnover of up to 750 million euros, the self-employed, freelancers as well as non-profit companies and organisations that have experienced a drop in turnover of at least 30 per cent between November 2020 and June 2021 will receive fixed cost subsidies. Depending on the amount of the drop in turnover, 40 per cent, 60 per cent or 90 per cent of the fixed costs will be reimbursed – up to a maximum of 1.5 million euros (three million euros for affiliated companies). Applications are made through auditing third parties.

In order to preserve the substance of the economy, Bridging Assistance III was again expanded and increased. At the same time, the support has been streamlined and simplified: all enterprises with less than 750 million euros in annual turnover and a drop in turnover in one month of at least 30 percent compared to the reference month in 2019 can receive the staggered fixed cost subsidies for that month. The maximum subsidy limit has been raised to up to 1.5 million euros per subsidy month until the subsidy limit is reached. In addition, down payments of up to 100,000 euros are possible for all companies eligible to apply, as well as the recognition of further cost items, for example investments in digitalisation and hygiene concepts.

+++

The federal government has initiated improvements in tax law to cushion the Corona impact on people and businesses. The goal remains to stabilise economic development, secure jobs and support families.

These points are implemented with the third Corona Tax Assistance Act:

– Parents will receive a one-time child bonus of 150 euros for each child entitled to child benefit in 2021. Like the child bonus last year, it will not be offset against social benefits and is intended to benefit families with small and medium incomes in particular. In total, about 18 million children in Germany benefit from the child bonus.

– The VAT rate for meals in restaurants and pubs will remain lowered from 19 to 7 per cent. This is intended to support the catering industry during the reopening period and to mitigate the economic impact of the Corona restrictions. The regulation is valid for a limited period until 31 December 2022.

– In order to secure liquidity, businesses are to be better able to offset their corona-related losses against profits from the previous year. For this purpose, the tax loss carryback for the years 2020 and 2021 will be extended again and increased to 10 million euros or 20 million euros in the case of joint assessment.

+++

 

+++ Wednesday, February 10th +++

Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) and the heads of the Länder governments agreed at their video conference on Wednesday to continue the lockdown until 7 March. Further decisions are to be taken at a meeting on 3 March.

Merkel (CDU) warned against a third wave. The reason is the different variants of the virus, said the Chancellor. Therefore, one must continue to be cautious. The mutation is a “reality”. It is increasing, the question is how fast. Merkel said that the measures imposed were having an effect. The number of new infections had fallen. “We can also be very satisfied,” the Chancellor said. (dpa/deutschland.de)

+++

Due to a further update, the Corona warning app can now also be used on older Apple devices, such as the iPhone 5s, 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. Users of these smartphone models can use the Corona Warning app without restrictions from version 1.12. The only requirement for the download in the app store is that they update their operating system to at least iOS 12.5. As of version 1.12, the Corona Warning app is now compatible with the iOS 12.5 operating system, making it available for older iPhones. It is estimated that potentially 1.7 million additional users will be able to download and use the Corona Warning app. The update is available gradually on all devices until the end of this week.

 

+++ Tuesday, February 9th +++

A new vaccination regulation is in force. Slightly changed regulations on the order of vaccinations now apply. The previous vaccination ordinance of 15 December 2020 had determined the order of vaccinations and prioritised particularly vulnerable population groups, especially the elderly and people in need of care. Prioritisation is necessary because initially there is not enough vaccine available to vaccinate everyone who wants it.

In the meantime – in addition to the vaccines from BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna – another vaccine has been approved: the vaccine from AstraZeneca, which, according to the recommendation of the Permanent Vaccination Commission in Germany, should initially only be administered to people under 65 years of age. This made it necessary to adapt the vaccination ordinance.

People under 65 years of age who belong to the group with the highest priority – for example, caregivers – are now to be vaccinated with the newly approved vaccine from AstraZeneca as a matter of priority. This means that more elderly people can be vaccinated with the vaccines from BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna at the same time.

In principle, there is still a fixed order among the population groups to be vaccinated. However, there are some adjustments. These include these new regulations:

– People with certain serious diseases are now to be considered more quickly than before in many cases. These include, among others, cancer patients or people with severe diabetes or chronic kidney disease.

– In future, it will be possible to deviate from the prescribed order in individual cases. This could be the case, for example, if opened vaccine ampoules would otherwise have to be discarded. This means that it will now be possible to react more flexibly to special situations.

+++

Federal Education Minister Anja Karliczek expressly urged caution. The laboriously and jointly achieved successes in containing the Corona pandemic must not be jeopardised, Karliczek said. But if schools were to be able to start teaching again, she said, it was necessary for those responsible on the ground to know what to do. That is why she is glad that there is now a clear and scientifically based guideline. A guideline prepared by various professional societies as well as experts and representatives from the school sector gives concrete recommendations for action.

The importance of wearing masks is explicitly emphasised. The formation of fixed groups, class division and alternating lessons as well as equalised pupil traffic are also recognised and recommended as effective. Primary schools are to be given priority when returning to face-to-face teaching. The guide also gives advice on how schools should deal with children who show only mild symptoms of illness, such as a cold.

Even though everyone would like to see a quick return to normality, according to Minister Karliczek, all those involved in the school system must first continue to exercise a great deal of discipline.

 

+++ Monday, February 8th +++

Digital education must be possible for all children and must not fail because of money. The assumption of costs for digital end devices is a pragmatic solution to enable children to receive distance learning quickly and easily.

The instruction of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs applies

– if the child is entitled to basic income support under SGB II (children of low-income earners may also have supplementary claims under SGB II)

– if equipment needed for distance learning is not provided, especially by schools

– as a rule, for a total of up to 350 euros per child for equipment such as laptop, tablet and accessories.

The assumption of costs will come into consideration with effect from 1 January 2021.

Last summer, the Federal Government increased the DigitalPakt Schule by 500 million euros. With this, it supports the Länder in equipping schools with appropriate devices for children in need. But even where this has not yet been implemented across the board, educational opportunities must be preserved.

+++

Following the extension of the Coronavirus Protective Masks Ordinance by the Federal Ministry of Health, recipients of benefits from the basic income support scheme for jobseekers are entitled to a one-time payment of ten FFP2 masks or comparable masks free of charge. The entitlement refers specifically to all persons who receive unemployment benefit II according to Book II of the Social Code or who live with such a person in a community of need. This therefore also includes (co-)insured persons in the community of need, such as children or other persons who are not capable of working. The protective masks will be issued unless there is already another entitlement based on the Coronavirus Protective Masks Ordinance.

Those entitled will receive an information letter from their health insurance fund or insurance company in the coming days. On presentation of the letter and the identity card, they will receive the protective masks in the pharmacies. There will be no co-payment. The costs for the masks are borne by the federal budget. The extended Coronavirus Protective Masks Ordinance will come into force on 6 February 2021. The one-time collection of the protective masks is possible in every pharmacy up to and including 6 March 2021.

The measure is justified by the decision of the Federal Chancellor and the heads of government of the federal states of 19 January 2021, which introduced an obligation to wear medical masks in public transport and in shops.

+++

The federal and state governments will discuss the further course of action in the Corona pandemic on Wednesday of next week. The decisions taken at the last meeting on 19 January are currently valid for a limited period until 14 February.

The federal-state meeting will take place in the form of a video conference. Afterwards, Chancellor Merkel will brief the public together with Governing Mayor Müller and Minister President Söder.

+++

With the Bridging Assistance III, the Federal Government supports not only companies but also many solo self-employed persons. On the initiative of Minister of State for Culture Grütters, short-term employees in the performing arts are now also included in the aid. Some of them have not been able to take advantage of assistance measures so far. The reason for this is that they are not self-employed as their main occupation, but are involved in projects. Because their employment periods are too short, they are also not entitled to unemployment benefits and short-time allowances. Many non-permanent actors and actresses as well as other short-term employees in the performing arts are affected.

The Minister of State for Culture, Monika Grütters, has now agreed with the Federal Minister of Economics, Peter Altmaier, and the Federal Minister of Finance, Olaf Scholz, to create an additional module for the cultural sector within the framework of Bridging Assistance III. This means that in the future, short-term employees in the performing arts sector will also be able to apply for aid of up to €7,500 for the period January to June 2021.

“I am grateful to my cabinet colleagues for recognising the very specific living circumstances and employment conditions of creative artists in response to my intensive lobbying and for adapting the Federal Government’s offers of assistance to them,” Monika Grütters said of the decision. This means that those in the cultural sector who would suffer the most from the pandemic, both personally and economically, will now receive a fair offer.

Due to the pandemic-related restrictions, theatre operations have come to a complete standstill since March 2020. Film production has also dropped sharply due to the Corona crisis. As a result of the pandemic, many performing artists, among others, have been largely without employment opportunities for almost 11 months.

 

+++ Saturday, 6 February +++

“The virus is not tired yet. On the contrary, it has just received another boost,” explained the President of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) Lothar Wieler at a press conference on the Corona situation. The RKI is primarily concerned about the spread of the newly emerged, significantly more infectious virus variants. In Germany, the B1.1.7 mutation, which was first detected in Great Britain, has already been found in 13 German states. Currently, this variant accounts for almost six percent of new infections.

The still heavily burdened intensive care units and the very high number of deaths show that “the situation is far from being under control”. “We have to expect that B1.1.7 in particular will continue to spread and that this will make pandemic control more difficult. This variant has become more contagious and SARS-CoV-2 has therefore become more dangerous overall,” Wieler said. The RKI has presented a first report on virus variants of SARS-CoV-2 in Germany, and more will follow in the coming weeks. For RKI President Wieler, it therefore remains important that “we continue to consistently implement all measures to prevent infections.”

Almost three million vaccine doses have now been administered in Germany. “In the meantime, 630,000 and thus almost 80 per cent of the residents in care facilities have received the first vaccination, and almost half of them have also received the second,” explained Health Minister Jens Spahn. The aim is to protect those who are most at risk from the coronavirus first. With the vaccinations, this is becoming more and more every day. “That makes a real difference in this pandemic,” Spahn said.

The declining number of new infections is an “encouraging development”, he said. However, due to the new, more contagious virus mutants, Spahn warned against loosening the measures to contain the virus too quickly. We should “not now lightly squander what we have so laboriously achieved.”

At the same time, he said, perspectives must be shown. “Now it is a matter of finding the right time and the right way out of the standstill at the right speed with a sense of proportion,” the health minister explained. The Corona pandemic “remains an imposition for all of us” – but “even if there are more hard weeks ahead: We are on the way out of the pandemic. And we are taking this path with determination but caution.”

 

+++ Friday, February 5th +++

The reopening of daycare centres and primary schools is an absolute priority for politicians if the current restrictions can be eased. This was emphasised by Chancellor Angela Merkel in a digital conversation with parents of daycare and school children on Thursday. “What I can promise – that the first thing we will reopen will be daycare centres and primary schools, before anything else,” the chancellor said. In her dialogue series “The Chancellor in Conversation”, Merkel was connected via video conference with mothers and fathers.

Across Germany, the participants reported on nerve-wracking weeks in which the balancing act between childcare and home office could only be managed with the greatest effort. He felt like he was in a “hamster wheel” of work and childcare, said a single father.

Younger school children in particular need intensive help with home schooling. A single mother told of the difficult role reversal: “My daughter doesn’t want me as a teacher, but as a mum.” Other families, reported a refugee counsellor, lack technical equipment for home schooling, but also language skills. But of course there are also nice moments in the many lessons together, emphasised a father of five children. But slowly the resources of the families are used up, he said.

Merkel said she was very aware of the “exceptional situation”. It was tugging at everyone’s nerves. “I would never have wished to have to make such decisions,” the Chancellor said. Politicians are trying to relieve parents somewhat with the children’s sickness benefit and the children’s bonus, Merkel said. And she could assure parents that no other topic would be discussed in such detail in the rounds with the heads of government of the federal states as schools.

At the same time, the Chancellor asked for a little patience: she could not yet give a precise timetable for when the situation in schools and day-care centres would return to normal. The crucial thing is to reduce the number of cases “so that the schools and day-care centres can stay open”.

 

+++ Thursday, February 4th+++

On 28 January 2021, the European Commission raised the state aid ceiling for small-scale aid to €1.8 million per company (previously €800,000). “We are making full use of this flexibility in national implementation and for our national Corona aid,” said Federal Economics Minister Peter Altmaier.

The Federal Government is now giving businesses a right of choice when applying for the Bridging Assistance II. They can receive the aid on the basis of the “Federal Small Grants Scheme” or the “Federal Fixed Cost Aid 2020 Scheme”. With the “Federal Small Grants Scheme”, proof of actual losses is not required. By increasing the aid ceiling, more applicants can now receive aid on this basis. This right of choice is implemented simply and straightforwardly as part of the final settlement, which is provided for anyway. There are no new application requirements.

Without this new regulation, there were situations where companies received less bridging aid than they had originally expected. The application period for Bridging Assistance II, which applies to the months of September to December 2020, has been extended until 31 March 2021. Specifically, this will result in higher payments and, if applicable, those affected can also expect to receive an additional payment. “This is good news and a great relief for many small businesses,” Altmaier emphasised.

 

+++ Wednesday, February 3rd +++

The German Armed Forces are helping Portugal to cope with its current dramatic situation in the Corona pandemic. Today, Wednesday, a 26-member medical aid team will travel to Lisbon – including doctors, nursing staff and a hygiene team. “We are helping our friends in Portugal, who are in a particularly dramatic situation, with German medical personnel and medical equipment,” explained Federal Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer. There was also considerable pressure on the German health system – “nevertheless, we are convinced that solidarity in Europe is indispensable, especially in these times”.

After aid missions in Italy, France and the Czech Republic during the first Corona wave, aid for Portugal is now following in the second wave. Portugal is currently the country in Europe most severely affected by the pandemic and is suffering above all from the spread of the dangerous Corona mutation B.1.1.7.

More than 15,000 members of the Bundeswehr are currently assisting civilian authorities at the federal, state and local levels in Germany in the fight against the pandemic and its social impact. The support ranges from tracing chains of infection to operating testing stations and providing telephone service in local authorities. The Bundeswehr is also involved in setting up vaccination centres. In total, up to 20,000 soldiers are on standby in the Bundeswehr relief contingent.

Last week, the Federal Cabinet had already approved the Federal Government’s full assumption of costs for the Bundeswehr’s administrative assistance in the fight against the Corona pandemic. “I have always said that this assistance is free of charge for the cities and municipalities, and I can only encourage everyone to really make use of this assistance,” said the Defence Minister.

 

+++ Tuesday, February 2nd +++

After a federal-state expert meeting on the supply of vaccines against the coronavirus, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Monday that vaccination was a “big part of the way out of the pandemic”. In addition to members of the federal government and the heads of state governments, representatives of the vaccine manufacturers took part.

The Chancellor emphasised that there was predictability for the companies’ deliveries for the different quarters of this year. She said that a distinction must be made between manufacturers whose vaccines have been approved and others for which approval is still pending. However, the statement that every citizen could be offered a vaccination by the end of the summer could be maintained.

The Chancellor said that the federal and state governments would continue to prioritise vaccination against the coronavirus. Everything would continue to be done to ensure the confidence of the citizens. The Federal Government and the Länder want to draw up a national vaccination plan in which, to the best of their knowledge, the delivery dates of the vaccines will be listed. The goal, he said, is to “provide more certainty on how to administer the invitation to people”.

+++

The regular disbursements for the extraordinary economic assistance for the month of December have started. This was announced by the Federal Ministry of Economics on Monday. So far, over 1.56 billion euros in advance payments for December aid have already been made. In total, more than 4.35 billion euros have been paid out so far for November and December aid.

Companies directly affected by the temporary closures are eligible to apply for December aid in accordance with the November aid regulations. With the December Aid, in principle, grants of up to 75 per cent of turnover from December 2019 will again be awarded pro rata for the number of days of closure in December 2020.

Applications are made through the Bridging Assistance platform. Applications for November assistance can be made since 25 November 2020, and for December assistance since 23 December 2020. The application must be submitted via tax advisors, auditors or other third parties. Solo self-employed persons who do not apply for more than 5,000 euros in support can submit the applications directly with their ELSTER certificate.

The Federal Government does not only support companies, associations and institutions with the extraordinary economic aid. Above all, solo self-employed people from the cultural and creative scene also benefit from the aid. For November and December 2020, they can receive up to 75 percent of their turnover as direct aid. As an alternative to the average turnover in November or December 2019, they can also use their average turnover in 2019 as a frame of reference.

 

+++ Monday, February 1st +++

The worldwide epidemiological situation with regard to the spread of infections with the coronavirus continues to be very dynamic. The Coronavirus Protection Ordinance (CoronaSchV) aims to contain the spread of the new virus variants. In addition to the current testing and quarantine regulations, a temporary restriction on the transport of persons entering Germany from countries classified as virus variant areas is necessary to protect the population in Germany and to limit the entry and rapid spread of the new virus variants. The new ordinance can be found on the website of the Federal Ministry of Health, together with the corresponding justification. The provisions on entry into Germany by the Coronavirus Entry Ordinance of 14 January 2021 continue to apply in addition.

The new ordinance is primarily aimed at carriers, i.e. companies that transport persons from a risk area in cross-border rail, bus, ship or air transport. Carriers are subject to a transport ban for a limited period of time and under the further conditions of the Coronavirus Protection Ordinance. Restrictions on entry from virus variant areas will be examined within the framework of border controls.

It continues to apply that non-essential travel to risk areas and in particular to virus variant areas is to be urgently avoided.

+++

With the upload of version 1.11 of the Corona warning app, the home screen of the app contains an area with statistics. There, the most important key figures on the current infection situation in Germany can be viewed, as well as the number of positive reports shared within the app. The Corona warning app of the Federal Government has already been downloaded more than 25 million times since its release in June last year.

With its additional functions, the app offers a list of the most important information and characteristics of the current infection situation. The source of the statistics on the incidence of infection is the Robert Koch Institute (RKI). The number of transmitted warnings comes from the IT system of the Corona warning app. The values are updated hourly and processed for the app. The statistics show changes as soon as new information is available. As with many other digital applications, the development of the federal government’s Corona warning app did not end with its launch. Rather, it is a project that is continuously being worked on in order to correct errors that have become known and to achieve further improvements. As early as February, there will be further improvements in the app’s functionality and usability.

 

+++ Friday, January 29th +++

About five million people are to be supplied with the free FFP2 masks. Those entitled would be written to by the health insurance companies and could then pick up the FFP2 masks at the pharmacy after presenting the letter and their identity card, says Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn. “This is an important contribution in this pandemic.”  Federal Labour Minister Hubertus Heil said that the whole of society must be kept in mind: “Protective means, which are now necessary, must not be a question of money.”

At their meeting on 19 January, Chancellor Angela Merkel and the Minister Presidents of the Länder had decided on a compulsory requirement to wear medical masks (surgical masks) or FFP masks in public transport and shops. The reason was concern about the possible spread of viral mutations in Germany. So that people who live on social welfare or basic income support can also comply with this obligation, they will now receive support. The levy will be launched as soon as possible, Heil said.

+++

A vaccine is one thing – medical care for COVID-19 infected people is another. “The University Medicine Network is an essential building block in protecting the population and providing the best possible help to sick people,” emphasised Federal Research Minister Anja Karliczek. The Ministry is supporting the network with 150 million euros.

The aim of the “Network University Medicine” (NUM) is to bring together strategies for the diagnosis and treatment of patients with COVID-19. The improved exchange of new developments in research and patient care should help to cope with the current high numbers of seriously ill patients with COVID-19 in Germany and to ensure the best possible treatment.

This bundling of knowledge, competencies and resources is intended to create structures and processes in the clinics that ensure the best possible care for COVID-19 patients. At the same time, pandemic management is to be supported by care research and the development of practical recommendations.

The network has provided the platform since last autumn, and all 36 German university hospitals have joined. Currently, 13 projects are being pursued here to improve the diagnosis and treatment of corona sufferers.

Some examples:

The B-FAST project aims to develop a platform for testing and surveillance strategy for different areas of application, such as the general population, schools and day-care centres, risk areas and clinics.

The CEO-sys project collects, sorts and evaluates the large number of scientific studies on COVID-19. This improves the decision-making process in doctors’ practices or clinics, in the public health service and in politics on the basis of scientific study results.

The COVIM project deals with immunity against COVID-19 pathogens. Two questions are central here: How can immunological protection be transferred from a few immune persons to many non-immune persons? And: Who is immunologically protected from an infection, by what means and for how long?

+++

To support inpatient care facilities, the federal government launched a hotline and an internet portal on Monday. Volunteers can register there. The additional helpers are to be used to test staff as well as visitors in order to make visits possible and to prevent infections. The list of cities and counties currently seeking test volunteers is updated daily.

Corona rapid tests are used to prevent the spread of infections in facilities while enabling visits. However, this involves additional staffing. Therefore, additional Bundeswehr soldiers will initially support the facilities for about three weeks. After that, volunteers will be deployed whom the German Red Cross will train on site. In addition to people from medical, nursing and other healing professions or with social training, suitable people without previous medical training can also apply.

 

+++ Thursday, January 28th +++

With the Corona Occupational Health and Safety Ordinance, the federal government obliges employers to offer home office as long as there are no compelling operational reasons to the contrary. The ordinance came into force on Wednesday. Employees are not obliged to use home office. However, Federal Labour Minister Hubertus Heil urges them to make use of it.

For employees who cannot work in a home office, employers must take appropriate measures to ensure equivalent protection. For example, they must at least provide medical face masks for working in the workplace if requirements for rooms or distance cannot be met for certain reasons. “Workers need the best protection in the pandemic,” said Federal Labour Minister Heil. Therefore, he said, the already existing occupational health and safety regulations must also continue to be observed, especially with regard to distance and the requirement to wear masks.

With the Corona Occupational Health and Safety Ordinance, the Federal Government is implementing an agreement from the resolution of the Federal Chancellor and the heads of government of the Länder. It will initially be valid until 15 March.

+++

“We must also see the crisis as an opportunity to become more modern and even more competitive in the long term. This is particularly about an attractive location, securing skilled labour, digitalisation and climate protection,” explained Federal Minister of Economics Peter Altmaier at the presentation of the Annual Economic Report 2021. The cabinet adopted the report under the heading “Overcoming the Corona Crisis, Supporting Economic Recovery, Strengthening Structures” on Wednesday.

It shows that the federal government has responded to the challenges of the Corona pandemic with extensive fiscal measures. It has stabilised the economy and secured jobs. In particular, it decided in June 2020 on a comprehensive economic stimulus package, which in the sum of the budget estimates for 2020 and 2021 has a volume of around 180 billion euros.

During its EU Council Presidency, Germany also provided important impetus for crisis management and making Europe fit for the future. A key aspect of emerging from the pandemic stronger together is the “NextGeneration EU” reconstruction plan worth 750 billion euros and its largest spending instrument, the Reconstruction and Resilience Facility, with a volume of 672.5 billion euros. By April 2021, the Federal Government will submit a final German Recovery and Resilience Plan to the EU Commission.

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Since March 2020, the German Armed Forces have been supporting the Länder and municipalities in the fight against the Corona pandemic with up to 20,000 soldiers. They are helping in health offices with contact tracing, transporting and storing vaccine doses, setting up testing stations and in nursing homes.

The costs incurred for personnel, provision of transport vehicles and travel expenses are provided free of charge to the Länder and municipalities. This refers to the period from 1 March 2020 to 31 December 2021. However, this does not apply to the personal protective equipment procured by the Federal Government and provided to the Länder, Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians and Association of Statutory Health Insurance Dentists. The Federal Budget Code allows the Federation to waive reimbursement of expenses for services rendered in justified exceptional cases if there is an urgent federal interest. The pandemic is having a noticeable impact on all areas of public life in Germany. It is in Germany’s urgent interest to limit the damage associated with this and to protect the lives of its citizens. At present, this is often only possible with personnel support from federal authorities and the Bundeswehr within the framework of administrative assistance.

In 2020, the Bundeswehr completed around 1,300 administrative assistance missions in connection with the Corona pandemic. Another 800 or so are currently being carried out or planned.

What is administrative assistance?

Administrative assistance always means: support. Currently, the Bundeswehr provides assistance on the basis of an application. A legal basis is necessary for administrative assistance. This is regulated in Article 35 of the Basic Law. These applications usually come from the districts and independent cities – from wherever there is a need. This can also happen at the state or district level. So that everyone on the ground knows what the Bundeswehr can offer and where the limits are, there are district liaison commands and district liaison commands.

 

+++ Wednesday, January 27th+++

Medical masks (OP masks) or FFP2 masks (or KN95 or N95 masks) are to be worn in public transport and when shopping, according to the decision of the federal and state governments on 19 January.

What do these designations mean? Medical Mouth and Nose Protection (MNS or surgical mask/OP mask) is used to protect others from coming into contact with infectious droplets from an infected person. FFP2, KN95 and N95 are protection class designations for particle-filtering half masks from various countries. They are designed to protect the wearer of the mask from droplets and filter aerosols, in the case of FFP2 masks at least 94 per cent. FFP2 masks comply with the German standard. N95 masks are approved according to American standards. KN95 masks meet a Chinese standard.

What should I look for when using an FFP2 mask? The mask must fit well and fit over the mouth, nose and cheeks. An FFP mask can only provide its full filtering performance if it fits tightly. In addition, a soaked mask should be removed and replaced. When removing the mask, it should always be held by the straps.

 





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