Germany to end free COVID tests from Oct. 11 – sources

BERLIN (Reuters) -The German government will stop offering free coronavirus tests from Oct. 11 in a bid to encourage more people to get vaccinated amid concerns about a rise in new cases, sources close to talks with the federal states said on Tuesday.

Less than seven weeks before a federal election, Chancellor Angela Merkel and leaders of the 16 federal states met on Tuesday to discuss measures to avoid a new wave of infections, driven by the spread of the Delta coronavirus variant, and avert unpopular restrictions.

They agreed to end free testing for all except those for whom vaccination is not recommended, such as children and pregnant women, the sources said.

They hope that will encourage more people to get COVID-19 shots as unvaccinated people will then have to pay for the tests they need to be able to enter indoor restaurants, take part in religious ceremonies and do indoor sport.

Germany had made the tests free for all in March to help make a gradual return to normal life possible after months of lockdown. Although around 55% of Germans are fully vaccinated, the pace of inoculations has slowed.

In neighboring France, vaccinations jumped after President Emmanuel Macron unveiled a plan for citizens to have to show a health pass for many daily activities, although the plan has also triggered mass demonstrations.

Armin Laschet, the conservative candidate to succeed Merkel, said Germany needed to increase testing and boost vaccinations.

“We want to and will test more to avoid a new lockdown,” Armin Laschet told the North Rhine-Westphalia assembly.

Hoping to become chancellor after the Sept. 26 election, Laschet is desperate to avoid new restrictions and said Germany should introduce incentives to encourage more people to get vaccinated and also ramp up compulsory testing.

Germany has recorded more than 3,000 cases a day in the last week, bringing the total to 3.79 million. Germany’s death toll is 91,803. The nationwide seven-day incidence rose on Tuesday to 23.5 per 100,000 people, up from 23.1 on Monday.

(Reporting by Matthias Inverardi, Andreas Rinke and Holger HansenWriting by Joseph Nasr, Madeline Chambers and Emma ThomassonEditing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Mark Potter)

Merkel, Biden face tough talks on Russian gas pipeline, China

By Andreas Rinke and Joseph Nasr

BERLIN (Reuters) – Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Joe Biden hold talks at the White House on Thursday that experts say are unlikely to yield major breakthroughs on divisive issues like a Russian gas pipeline to Germany and a U.S. push to counterbalance China.

Both sides have said they want to reset ties strained during the presidency of Donald Trump. Yet their positions on the most divisive issues remain far apart.

Merkel has rejected opposition from the United States and eastern European neighbors to the almost completed Nord Stream 2 pipeline which they fear Russia could use to cut out Ukraine as a gas transit route, depriving Kyiv of lucrative income and undermining its struggle with Moscow-backed eastern separatists.

And during her 16 years in power, she has worked hard for closer German and European economic ties with China, which the Biden administration sees as a global threat that it wants to counter with a joint front of democratic countries.

“The problem for the U.S. is that Merkel has the upper hand, because she has decided that the status quo in the trans-Atlantic relationship is good enough for Germany,” said Ulrich Speck, an independent foreign policy analyst. “Biden by contrast needs to win over Germany for his new China strategy.”

Officials from both sides are engaged in intense discussions to resolve the issue and stave off the reimposition of sanctions that Biden waived in May. Biden has opposed the project, but he is also facing increasing pressure from U.S. lawmakers to reimpose sanctions.

“Nord Stream 2 is the area where you most realistically can expect progress,” said Thorsten Benner of the Global Public Policy Institute (GPPi). “Merkel may hope to get away with providing guarantees for Ukraine’s continued role as a gas transit country and a vague snapback mechanism that would kick in if Russia seeks to cut transit through Ukraine.”

A senior U.S. administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Biden would underscore his opposition when he meets with Merkel, but the waiver had given diplomatic space for both sides to “address the negative impacts of the pipeline”.

“Our teams are continuing to discuss how we can credibly and concretely ensure that Russia cannot use energy as a coercive tool to disrupt Ukraine, eastern flank allies or other states,” the official said.

Merkel, who will step down after an election in September, vowed during a news conference on Monday with visiting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that Germany and the European Union will guarantee Ukraine’s status as a transit country.

“We promised Ukraine and will keep our promise,” said Merkel. “It is my custom to keep my word and I believe this applies to every future chancellor.”

The issue of China is more complicated.

Merkel was an advocate of an investment pact between the European Union and China struck late last year on the eve of Biden taking office, and she has been criticized for not facing up to Beijing on human rights violations in Hong Kong and against a Muslim minority in Xinjiang, which the United States has labelled a genocide.

“There will likely be a joint call by Biden and Merkel for China to step up its efforts on carbon reduction and global health, maybe a reference to the need to further open the Chinese market,” Benner said. “But don’t expect anything from Merkel that will remotely look like there is a joint trans-Atlantic front on China.”

The two countries also remain at odds over a proposed temporary waiver of intellectual property rights to help increase production of COVID-19 vaccines, a measure backed by Washington, and the United States’ refusal to ease travel restrictions on visitors from Europe.

(Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal in Washington; Writing by Joseph Nasr; editing by David Evans)

Germany’s top court upholds night curfews in COVID-19 fight

By Michael Nienaber

BERLIN (Reuters) -Germany’s constitutional court on Wednesday dismissed emergency appeals against the government’s decision to impose night curfews in areas with high COVID-19 infections as some regions are eyeing a loosening of lockdown restrictions.

Germany last month passed a law giving Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government more powers to fight a third wave of the coronavirus, including curfews between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. in regions with high infection rates.

The constitutional court said in its ruling the rejection of the emergency appeals did not mean that the curfew was in line with Germany’s Basic Law, adding that the judges would take a closer look at the issue during the main hearing.

Merkel drew up the stricter rules after some of Germany’s 16 federal states refused to impose tough measures despite a surge in cases.

The court ruling came as data suggested that the stricter measures seemed to have helped to break the third wave of cases and push down infections.

Confirmed new coronavirus cases in Germany rose on Wednesday by 18,034 to 3,451,550, but that 24-hour figure was 4,000 lower than a week ago, and the seven-day incidence per 100,000 people dropped to 132 from 141 on Tuesday, the lowest in three weeks.

Legislation passed last month enabled the federal government to impose night-time curfews in areas where cases exceed 100 per 100,000 residents on three consecutive days, and even stricter curbs where cases go above 165 per 100,000.

Three of Germany’s states are now under the key threshold of 100 cases per 100,000 – Hamburg, Lower Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein – while three others are getting close – Berlin, Brandenburg and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.

The southern state of Bavaria said on Tuesday it would allow outdoor dining to resume from May 10 in areas where the incidence is under 100, and allow the tourism sector to reopen from May 21, when that part of the country has school holidays.

The state of Lower Saxony has also agreed to ease the rules for restaurants, tourism and retail for areas under 100.

Health Minister Jens Spahn called on the states to give priority to opening outdoor activities so as not to risk a new wave of infections.

On Tuesday, Germany’s cabinet agreed to ease restrictions on people who are fully vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19, a decree which could come into effect at the weekend.

After a sluggish start, the pace of vaccinations has been picking up in Germany and the number of people with coronavirus needing intensive care treatment in hospital has begun to fall.

(Reporting by Michael Nienaber, additional reporting by Andreas Rinke, editing by Mark Heinrich and Giles Elgood)

Merkel backs tougher COVID lockdown in Germany

BERLIN (Reuters) -Chancellor Angela Merkel supports demands for a short, tough lockdown in Germany to curb the spread of the coronavirus as infection rates are too high, a German government spokeswoman said on Wednesday.

Germany is struggling to tackle a third wave of the pandemic and several regional leaders have called for a short, sharp lockdown while the country tries to vaccinate more people.

“Every call for a short, uniform lockdown is right,” deputy government spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer told reporters, adding Germany was seeing a growing number of intensive care patients.

“We need a stable incidence below 100,” she said, referring to the number of cases over seven days per 100,000 inhabitants. It is currently 110.1, according to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases.

She also said the government was looking at whether nationwide, rather than regional, measures were needed.

“The range of regulations does not help acceptance,” said Demmer. While some states have imposed night-time curfews over Easter, others are experimenting with some easing of restrictions.

Merkel pressed regional leaders on March 28 to step up efforts to curb rapidly rising coronavirus infections, adding a thinly veiled threat that she would otherwise have to consider what steps could be taken on a nationwide basis.

One option would be to amend the Infection Protection Act to stipulate what should happen under certain scenarios and which could enable the federal government to enforce a nationwide lockdown without getting approval of the 16 state premiers.

Demmer said the government was still looking into this option, but that no final decision had been taken yet.

Bild newspaper reported that conservative lawmakers were currently working on a draft law to give the federal government more powers to get the third wave under control.

The majority of Germany’s federal state premiers was against bringing forward talks scheduled for April 12 on what action to take.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany rose by 9,677 on Wednesday to more than 2.9 million, the Robert Koch Institute said. It has warned that the numbers may not yet show the full picture as not all cases were registered over Easter. Some 77,401 people have died.

(Reporting by Andreas Rinke and Michael Nienaber; Writing Madeline Chambers; Editing by Maria Sheahan, Kirsti Knolle)

Merkel appeals to Germans to stay home for Easter to stem pandemic third wave

By Emma Thomasson

BERLIN (Reuters) -Chancellor Angela Merkel appealed to Germans on Thursday to stay at home over Easter and meet fewer people to help curb a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic, as the capital Berlin announced a nighttime ban on gatherings from Friday.

“It should be a quiet Easter, with those closest to you, with very reduced contact. I urge you to refrain from all non-essential travel,” Merkel said in a video message, adding this was the only way to help doctors and nurses fight the virus.

Merkel was accused of losing her grip on the COVID-19 crisis last week after she ditched plans for an extended Easter holiday agreed two days earlier with governors of Germany’s 16 states.

She has since tried to shift the blame for the third wave of the pandemic onto state premiers, accusing them of failing to stick to earlier agreements to reimpose restrictions if infections rose.

On Thursday, the city government of Berlin said it will impose a nighttime ban on gatherings from Friday and only allow children of essential workers to attend nursery from next week.

As the weather has turned warm in recent days, Berliners have been flocking to public spaces. About a hundred youngsters threw bottles and stones at police in one park on Wednesday when they tried to break up the party, the Berliner Zeitung reported.

Merkel said it was no longer the elderly who were fighting for their lives in the pandemic, but the middle-aged and even younger patients who were ending up on ventilators in hospital.

She held out hope, however, that the sluggish distribution of vaccinations would speed up after Easter, when family doctors will start giving shots.

Christian Karagiannidis, the scientific head of the DIVI association for intensive and emergency medicine, said Germany needs a two-week lockdown, faster vaccinations and compulsory tests at schools if hospitals are not to be overwhelmed.

“If this rate continues, we will reach the regular capacity limit in less than four weeks,” he told the Rheinische Post daily. “We are not over-exaggerating. Our warnings are driven by the figures.”

The Berlin city government said people would only be allowed to be outside on their own or with one other person from 9 p.m. until 5 a.m., though children under 14 are exempted.

This will be the first limited curfew imposed in Berlin since the pandemic began a year ago. The city of Hamburg already announced on Wednesday it will restrict nighttime outings from Friday, with supermarkets and takeaways shut from 9 p.m.

Unlike Britain and France, Germany’s 16 states, which run their own healthcare and security affairs, have been reluctant to impose drastic limits on movement out of fear of further damaging the economy, as well as an aversion to far-reaching restrictions on freedoms in a country wary of its Nazi past.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany, Europe’s most populous country and largest economy, rose 24,300 to 2.833 million on Thursday, the biggest daily increase since Jan. 14. The reported death toll rose by 201 to 76,543.

(Reporting by Emma Thomasson, editing by William Maclean and Mark Heinrich)

German COVID-19 cases are growing exponentially again: RKI

BERLIN (Reuters) – Coronavirus infections are rising exponentially in Germany, an expert at the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases said on Tuesday, putting at risk plans to lift the lockdown and revive the economy.

The number of cases per 100,000 reported on Tuesday was 83.7, up from 68 a week ago, and the RKI has said that metric could reach 200 by the middle of next month.

Germany is definitely in a third wave of the pandemic, driven by the fact it has loosened restrictions in recent weeks just as a more transmissible variant has spread, Dirk Brockmann, an epidemiologist at the RKI, told Germany’s ARD television.

“It has been totally irrational to loosen up here. It is just fueling this exponential growth,” he said.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and state leaders agreed a phased easing of curbs earlier this month along with an “emergency brake” to let authorities reimpose restrictions if case numbers rise above 100 per 100,000 on three consecutive days.

They are due to meet again on March 22 to discuss whether to allow any further relaxation of the rules.

The state government in the city of Berlin decided on Tuesday to put on hold any more easing, such as allowing restaurants or cinemas to open, the Tagesspiegel newspaper reported.


Germany’s decision on Monday to suspend AstraZeneca’s vaccine could delay progress in reaching herd immunity and postpone an economic recovery in the second quarter, analysts said.

The decision follows seven cases of thrombosis in Germany, including three deaths, and delivers a major setback to the country’s drive to speed up its sluggish vaccination campaign.

A planned meeting between Merkel and state leaders on Wednesday to discuss using family doctors to administer COVID-19 vaccines has been postponed until after the European Medicines Agency completes its review into the AstraZeneca shot.

AstraZeneca has said an analysis of its safety data covering reported cases from over 17 million vaccine doses given had shown no evidence of an increased risk of pulmonary embolism, deep vein thrombosis or low levels of platelets.

The RKI’s Brockmann noted that 1,000 people in a million had died of COVID-19, compared to possibly 1 in a million from complications associated with the vaccine.

“In the risk groups, the risk of dying of COVID is much, much higher. That means it is probably 100,000 times more likely to die of COVID than because of an AstraZeneca vaccine,” he said.

(Reporting by Emma Thomasson and Caroline Copley, Editing by Timothy Heritage and Gareth Jones)

Merkel tells Rouhani Iran should return to nuclear deal

BERLIN (Reuters) – Iran should send positive signals to increase the chances of a return to the 2015 nuclear deal and defuse a standoff with western powers, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told President Hassan Rouhani in a phone call on Wednesday.

Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said the German leader told Rouhani she was concerned that Iran was continuing to breach its commitments under the deal, which U.S. President Joe Biden wants to restore should Iran halt nuclear activities.

(Reporting by Joseph Nasr; Editing by Madeline Chambers)

Germany extends lockdown until March 7

By Sabine Siebold and Andreas Rinke

BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany will extend restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus until March 7, though schools and hair salons may open sooner, Chancellor Angela Merkel and leaders of the 16 federal states agreed on Wednesday.

The number of new daily infections in Germany has been falling, prompting some regional leaders to push for a timetable to ease the lockdown, but concerns are growing about the impact of more infectious variants of the virus on case numbers.

“We know that these mutants are a reality now, and with that it (the infection rate) will increase. The question is how quickly it will increase,” Merkel told journalists in a news conference.

Under the agreement, some exceptions will be made to a strict lockdown which has been in place since mid-December.

Hairdressers will be allowed to reopen from March 1 and individual states can decide on how to re-start school classes. Merkel, who has adopted a cautious approach throughout the pandemic, has said nurseries and primary schools take priority.

The rest of the economy can start to re-open gradually where the spread of the virus drops to no more than 35 new cases per 100,000 people over seven days.

On Wednesday, that number was 68, having fallen from a high near 200 in late December. It was last below 50 in October.


Some business and industry associations have pushed for an easing of the restrictions as soon as possible, citing the damage inflicted on Europe’s biggest economy, which shrank by 5% last year.

“The situation is serious,” the BDI industry and BDA employers groups said. “We urgently call for an easing plan.”

However, the Ifo economic think-tank said a lockdown extension until mid-March was bearable and that a swifter easing that triggered a surge in cases could create greater damage.

Germany reported 8,072 new cases on Wednesday and a further 813 deaths, bringing the total death toll to 62,969.

(Writing by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Maria Sheahan, Gareth Jones and Cynthia Osterman)

Record daily German COVID deaths spark Merkel ‘mega-lockdown’ plan: Bild

By Andreas Rinke and Caroline Copley

BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany recorded a new record number of deaths from the coronavirus on Thursday, prompting calls for an even tighter lockdown after the country emerged relatively unscathed in 2020.

Chancellor Angela Merkel wanted a “mega-lockdown,” mass-selling newspaper Bild reported, shutting down the country almost completely for fear of fast-spreading variant of the virus first detected in Britain.

She was considering measures including shutting down both local and long-distance public transport, though such steps had not yet been decided, Bild reported.

While Germany’s total deaths per capita since the pandemic began remain far lower than the United States, its daily per capita mortality since mid-December has often exceeded that of the United States.

Germany’s daily death toll currently equates to about 15 deaths per million people, versus a 13 U.S. deaths per million.

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported 25,164 new coronavirus cases and 1,244 fatalities, bringing Germany’s total death toll since the start of the pandemic to 43,881.

Germany initially managed the pandemic better than its neighbors with a strict lockdown last spring, but it has seen a sharp rise in cases and deaths in recent months, with the RKI saying people were not taking the virus seriously enough.

RKI president Lothar Wieler said on Thursday restrictions were not being implemented as consistently as they were during the first wave and said more people should work from home, adding that the current lockdown needed to be tightened further.

Germany introduced a partial lockdown in November that kept shops and schools open, but it tightened the rules in mid-December, closing non-essential stores, and children have not returned to classrooms since the Christmas holidays.

Hospitals in 10 out of Germany’s 16 states were facing bottlenecks as 85% of intensive care unit beds were occupied by coronavirus patients, Wieler said.

A meeting of regional leaders planned for Jan. 25 to discuss whether to extend the lockdown into February should be brought forward, said Winfried Kretschmann, the premier of the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg.

Merkel was due to speak to ministers on Thursday about ramping up production of vaccines.

So far only about 1% of the German population has been vaccinated, or 842,455 people, the RKI reported.

Germany has so far recorded 16 cases of people with the fast-spreading strain of the virus first detected in Britain and four with the strain from South Africa, Wieler said, although he admitted gene sequencing of samples was not being done broadly.

Wieler urged people who were offered a COVID-19 vaccination to accept it.

“At the end of the year we will have this pandemic under control,” Wieler said. Enough vaccines would then be available to inoculate the entire population, he said.

(Reporting by Kirsti Knolle and Thomas Escritt, Writing by Caroline Copley and Emma Thomasson, Editing by Riham Alkousaa, Angus MacSwan, William Maclean and Nick Macfie)

Captains of German industry to accompany Merkel on Trump trip

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel briefs the media during a European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium March 9, 2017.

By Georgina Prodhan

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – Bosses of German companies including engineering group Siemens and car maker BMW  will travel with Chancellor Angela Merkel to meet U.S. President Donald Trump this week, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.

Faced with Trump’s “America First” policy and threats to impose tariffs on imported goods, the captains of industry will stress how many U.S. jobs are tied to “Deutschland AG”.

Trains-to-turbines group Siemens employs more than 50,000 people in the United States, its single biggest market, where it makes 21 percent of its total revenue, while BMW’s South Carolina plant is its largest factory anywhere in the world.

Trump will meet Merkel, Europe’s longest-serving leader, for the first time on Tuesday in Washington.

Merkel told business leaders in Munich on Monday that free trade was important for both countries, while a German government spokesman confirmed at a press conference that the two leaders would also meet with German business executives.

German chancellors have a long tradition of taking groups of business leaders along with them on trips to important countries. The other business leader accompanying Merkel will be the chief executive of ball-bearings maker Schaeffler.

The three chief executives will cross the Atlantic for a single scheduled meeting of less than an hour with Trump. They will brief the president on the German practice of training workers on the job while also sending them to classes at a vocational school to obtain formal qualifications.

Such training is traditionally offered by large German companies both at home and in their foreign operations, and is particularly prized in emerging economies, where it helps German corporations win business.

Sources of tension between Berlin and the new U.S. administration include an accusation by a senior Trump adviser that Germany profits unfairly from a weak euro, and Trump’s threat to impose 35 percent tariffs on imported vehicles.

The United States is Germany’s biggest trading partner, buying German goods and services worth 107 billion euros ($114 billion) last year while exporting just 58 billion euros’ worth in return.

“The accusations of President Donald Trump and his advisers are plucked out of thin air,” the president of Germany’s VDMA engineering industry association, Carl Martin Welcker, said in a statement on Monday.

He said 81,000 people were employed in German-owned engineering firms in the United States with almost 30 billion euros in total revenue, while German export successes were linked to the high quality of goods, not foreign-exchange effects.

As part of a bid to bring jobs to America, Trump has urged carmakers to build more cars in the United States and discouraged them from investing in Mexico, where German and other carmakers have big plants.

Trump’s order banning citizens of some majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States, and a threat to tear up the NAFTA free trade deal between the United States, Mexico and Canada, have also unnerved business leaders.

Siemens chief executive Joe Kaeser expressed concern last month about developments in the United States since Trump took office, saying: “The new American president has a style that’s different from what we’re accustomed to. It worries us, what we see.”

BMW’s Chief Executive Harald Krueger said last week that introducing protectionist measures and tariffs would not be good for the United States.

The carmaker is expanding its plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina, to have a capacity of 450,000 vehicles, with 70 percent for export.

It is also building a new plant in Mexico, where it plans to invest $2.2 billion by 2019. Mexico’s lower labor costs and unique free trade position mean it now accounts for a fifth of all vehicle production in North America.

“America profits from free trade. We are supporters of free trade and not of protectionism,” Krueger told reporters at the Geneva auto show.

(Additional reporting by Irene Preisinger in Munich, Erik Kirschbaum, Andreas Cremer and Andreas Rinke in Berlin, and Edward Taylor in Frankfurt; Editing by Catherine Evans and Susan Fenton)