The German approaches against the pandemic can roughly be categorized in three chronological stages: during a first phase as of mid-March 2020, severe restrictions on general mobility and the closure of most facilities were ordered throughout the Republic. A second stage, beginning at the end of April 2020, brought significant relaxations. A third stage with new restrictions due to rising infection numbers began in October 2020. For November and the first half of December 2020 a ‘light lockdown’ was implemented, with shops and schools being kept open. As infection numbers did not decrease, a new ‘hard lockdown’ was implemented as of 16 December 2020. Although some relaxations have been agreed on since March 2021, the present situation cannot yet be considered as a fourth, relaxed phase because infection numbers tend to rise again and severe measures are likely to remain in place in the near future.
Germany is a federal state, complemented of the federal level and the 16 Länder. While the federal level is vested with strong legislative powers, the Länder have most competences for implementation of legislation (‘executive federalism’). Accordingly, the most important law regarding the pandemic, the Infection Protection Act, is a federal statute which is executed by the authorities of the Länder. Despite this division of competencies, the Federal Government saw the political need to ensure a coordinated overall approach among the Länder, holding repeated informal meetings with the minister-presidents of the Länder in order to develop a unified strategy to be subsequently legally implemented by the Länder. In the course of the crisis, it has turned out that the central legal instrument for this implementation of rules at the Länder’s level are regulations (Rechtsverordnungen). In general, these are issued without parliamentary participation which has raised much debate among legal scholars.