German government sets Sept. 26 for elections as Merkel meets premiers to extend shutdown, plan for pandemic Christmas

Germany's next national elections are to take place on Sept. 26, 2021, the government decided on Wednesday, as Chancellor Angela Merkel's retirement from politics looms.

Berlin, 25 November 2020 (dpa/MIA) — Germany’s next national elections are to take place on Sept. 26, 2021, the government decided on Wednesday, as Chancellor Angela Merkel’s retirement from politics looms.

Government spokeswoman Martina Fietz announced the date, which German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier must sign off on.

Merkel has vowed not to stand in the election after four terms in office, leaving the future leadership of Europe’s largest economy wide open.

Earlier on Wednesday, Merkel met with regional leaders to discuss the nation’s pandemic response, with sweeping closures and restrictions set to be extended or even tightened.

Germany closed bars, restaurants and leisure facilities and brought back nationwide contact restrictions at the start of November in response to a surging second wave of infections.

The country’s 16 state premiers are seeking to prolong that shutdown, until Dec. 20, and Merkel has also said that infection rates are still too high to allow for any easing of restrictions.

In fact, the current two-household limit on group meetings could be restricted further to a maximum of five people, rather than a previous 10.

A decision on whether to roll out mask-wearing in school classrooms is also expected on Wednesday.

There is also discussion over how to regulate the Christmas holiday period, but current legislation only allows authorities to take measures in response to the pandemic for a four-week period, meaning that further talks will be required next month.

The states are proposing an early break-up for schools from Dec. 19, while Merkel’s office is reported to be considering an even earlier date of Dec. 16.

The states’ draft proposal calls for members of one household to be allowed to meet with up to 10 other people from other households from Dec. 23 until Jan. 1. Children under age 14 will be excluded from the rule.

The state premiers are also appealing to people to undergo a period of self-isolation prior to Christmas for a few days, in a bid to prevent infection at holiday gatherings. Employers and schools would be urged to show flexibility to allow people to stay at home in the run-up to Christmas.

Fireworks could also be banned or restricted, hemming in a popular way of ringing in the New Year in Germany.

Government sources have said that around 17 billion euros (20.1 billion dollars) would be made available in December to reimburse businesses for revenue lost due to the shutdown, on top of the 14 to 15 billion euros set aside for this month.

Under Germany’s federal system, Merkel depends on the state leaders to enact sweeping policies designed to halt the spread of the virus. She has held frequent meetings with them throughout the pandemic to coordinate a nationwide response, with varying degrees of success.

On Wednesday, the coronavirus-related death toll rose in Germany by 410 — the highest daily jump in the country so far — to reach 14,771.

The Robert Koch Institute for disease control added another 18,633 infections to its confirmed caseload, which now amounts to 961,320 cases in the pandemic so far.

Merkel and the state premiers’ talks got under way on Wednesday despite a commotion in front of her chancellery that morning, when a man drove his car into the gate outside.

He has been detained and a government spokesman said Merkel and her staff were never in any danger.

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