Police in central Berlin have clashed with protesters outside the German parliament, which is considering a bill to give Chancellor Angela Merkel the power to impose tougher restrictions as the nation suffers a third wave of coronavirus infections.
A police spokesman said officers had to break up the protest because people were not wearing masks or keeping a minimum safe distance. He said about 60 people were detained, and that while police had to use pepper spray against other demonstrators who threw bottles and tried to climb over barriers, acts of violence were minimal.
Many of the protesters waved German flags and banners saying coronavirus lockdowns undermine values enshrined in the constitution. Many Germans are sensitive to any measures they perceive as threatening their freedom because of the country’s Nazi and Communist past. Demonstrations against the proposed legislation have been staged in the last few weeks in towns across the country.
The measure passed the lower house of the German parliament – the Bundestag – Wednesday on a 342-250 vote, with 64 abstentions. It will be considered Thursday in the upper house – the Bundesrat – where Germany’s states are represented. If it passes there, the special powers it grants the federal government will be in effect until June.
Under the bill, Merkel’s government could impose tough measures including sweeping shutdowns and 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfews in regions with more than 100 new infections per 100,000 people over seven days.
It also could force schools to revert to virtual teaching in states where the infection rate exceeds 165 — a tighter requirement than the 200 contained in an earlier draft of the law.
Only one state had an incidence rate below 100 Wednesday, while seven topped 165 — including the two most populous, Bavaria and North Rhine-Westphalia.