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What’s the latest on the situation in Germany?
Authorities on Tuesday June 23rd ordered a new lockdown for an entire district in western Germany – the first since easing coronavirus restrictions and a major setback to hopes of a swift return to normality.
“For the first time in Germany, we will return an entire district to the measures that applied several weeks ago,” Armin Laschet, state premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, said.
More than 1,500 workers out of a total of nearly 7,000 have tested positive for Covid-19 at the nearby slaughterhouse in Rheda-Wiedenbrück.
Previously on Tuesday June 16th Germany introduced a mobile phone app to help trace coronavirus infections in a bid to keep the spread under control will be made available to the public in the coming days. As of Tuesday June 23rd it had been downloaded more than 12 million times.
By making the app available to the public, the government wants to better recognise coronavirus infection chains, and ensure that the spread of Covid-19 does not get out of control.
The German government has repeatedly stressed that the use of any coronavirus app would be voluntary and anonymous. It's an important message in a country still haunted by the spying of the Nazi era and the former East German secret police.
Authorities are hopeful, though, that people in Germany will sign up to it.
As of Tuesday June 9th there had been a total of 192,127 confirmed coronavirus infections in Germany. Of those around 175,779 people have recovered and 8,909 people have died, according to Johns Hopkins University figures, which reports slightly higher figures than Germany's Robert Koch Institute (RKI) due to calculating data in real time throughout the day.
Travel and social distancing restrictions in Germany continue to be loosened. Germany's tourist travel warning for Europe is set to be lifted in mid-June, the Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas, announced at a press conference.
Germany extended social distancing rules aimed at containing the spread of the coronavirus epidemic to June 29th, Chancellor Angela Merkel's government said on Tuesday May 26th.
Up to 10 people will be allowed to gather in public places but Germans should be in contact with as few people as possible, according to the rules agreed between the federal government and 16 states.
As of Monday May 18th restaurants in Germany's 16 states were allowed to open their doors to guests with special measures in place. By the end of May, all states opened their hotels and other tourism infrastructure under tight hygienic conditions.
Thuringia became the first state to announce it would repeal all coronavirus restrictions – for which it was met with sharp criticism and a little praise. Neighbouring Saxony also announced Monday May 25th that it would soon be following suit.
The country has continued to ease coronavirus restrictions, even amid local outbreaks of the disease recently such as at a restaurant and a church service. There was also an outbreak at private parties over the long weekend at the end of May and beginning of June.
Germany also uncovered another cluster of coronavirus infections at an abattoir on May 18th, fuelling alarm about working conditions in the country's meat packing plants. This led the country to draft a law to end practise of hiring workers on short term contracts. Fines will be imposed on companies that fail to comply.
One of the largest concerns about the outbreak of the coronavirus in Germany has been its economic impact – the lockdown sent the country into its worst recesssion since World War II.
German ministers met Tuesday, June 2nd to thrash out an economic stimulus package to speed recovery from the coronavirus shutdown, with the vital auto industry and possible subsidies for it a key sticking point.
On a broader scale, France and Germany have proposed a €500 billion recovery fund to finance the relaunch of the EU's economy, which is facing the biggest economic crisis since the World War II because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Holidays and travel
On Tuesday June 2nd, Germany announced it would be repealing its travel warning for 31 countries in Europe on June 15th.
In addition to Germany's 26 partner countries in the European Union, these include the UK, and the four states of the border-free Schengen area, which are not members of the EU: Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein.
Germany has been loosening its border controls and restrictions. On Wednesday May 13th the country said it aimed to end by the middle of June checks at land borders introduced to fight the coronavirus as infection rates slow.
And on Friday May 15th, German states said that they were seeking to end a 14-day quarantine requirement for travellers coming from neighbouring countries. North Rhine-Westphalia, which shares a border with Belgium and the Netherlands, already ended it.
Germany had issued the warning in March advising against non-essential travel abroad, particularly against travel for tourism purposes.
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Appeal from Merkel
Chancellor Merkel made an urgent appeal to German residents on Monday May 11th to adhere to social distancing and mask regulations to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Her words followed weekend protests against corona restrictions which broke out in Berlin, Frankfurt, Dortmund and several other German cities. An estimated 10,000 people attended a rally in Stuttgart, while 3,000 attended a demonstration in Munich to protest the restrictions.
Many fear that such illegal gatherings – as well as a growing number of people in Germany turning a blind eye to regulations – could cause a rebound in the coronavirus reproduction number, which the country wants to keep under 1.
The government and states had extended social distancing restrictions, which include keeping a minimum distance of 1.5 metres from other people in public, until June 5th.
Hairdressers and other businesses open
On Monday, May 4th hairdressers in Germany reopened after a seven-week long compulsory break during the corona crisis.
Following the conference with state leaders, Merkel said religious services would be allowed to resume in Germany but with strict social distancing and hygiene measures in place.
Museums, zoos, memorials, galleries and botanic gardens were also given the green light to reopen. Playgrounds will also be allowed to reopen.
Outdoor swimming pools around Germany are also beginning to open again.
German labs are now able to carry out almost 900,000 tests a week for the novel coronavirus, authorities said on Wednesday April 29th – and they plan to widen testing among health workers.
“Today, we have a theoretically possible capacity of almost 900,000 tests (per week) in Germany already, as long as the materials for these tests are available,” Health Minister Jens Spahn told reporters in Berlin on April 29th.
Tests should be carried out “as comprehensively and preventively as possible” among staff, including in care homes, he said.
It came as the German government planned to soften the health and economic impact caused by coronavirus by introducing a series of packages, including more support for workers and guidelines for doctors.
Infection rate increases in Germany
There were signs that transmission of the novel coronavirus had picked up in the week beginning April 25th, as the country was beginning a cautious easing of its lockdown measures.
The reproduction or infection rate under close watch by health authorities mounted again to around 1.0, meaning each infected person passes the virus on to one other, figures from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for disease control showed late Tuesday April 26th.
Ministers and virologists have hammered home the importance of squeezing the number below 1.0.
Face masks covering the nose and mouth became mandatory across the whole of Germany on Wednesday April 29th in a bid to contain the coronavirus spread as the country emerges from its shutdown of public life.
In all states, people will be required to wear a covering on public transport and while shopping.
Some states have an expanded list of requirements for wearing a mask. In North Rhine-Westphalia, for example, residents have to wear a mask at weekly markets, bus stops, train stations, taxis, doctors' surgeries, post offices, banks and petrol stations.
All types of masks are allowed, including homemade ones. Other types of face coverings such as scarves are also acceptable as long as they cover the nose and mouth.
A supermarket in Thuringia. Photo: DPA
Some states are also issuing fines for people who don't comply with the rules.
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Schools reopening slowly
On Monday April 27th the first pupils returned to the classroom in about half of all the country’s 16 states last Monday – but only for final exams or exam preparation.
From May 4th, school will also start again for most primary school pupils who will graduate in the next year.
Across states, there is a phased opening while measures for social distancing and hygiene have to be in place.
- State by state: When (and how) will Germany's schools open again?
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Fears of a relapse
As restrictions around Germany were relaxed, Chancellor Merkel cautioned that the country could “risk a setback” by returning to normalcy too quickly. Her words came as hospitals around the country prepared for a new wave of coronavirus cases.
Germany on Monday April 20th took its first steps back towards the new normal, with smaller shops in most regions opening up for the first time in a month.
From florists to fashion stores, the majority of shops smaller than 800 square metres will be allowed to welcome customers again, in a first wave of relaxations to strict curbs on public life introduced last month.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and regional state premiers announced the decision to reopen last week, though they have been careful to cast it as no more than a cautious first step.
While the first shops will open their doors on Monday, each of Germany's 16 states is set to lift the restrictions at a slightly different pace.
Bavaria, for example, is acting more cautiously when reopening public life.
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Merkel, who has been praised for her handling of the coronavirus crisis, is hoping to reinvigorate the ailing German economy, which officially entered into recession last week.
On Friday April 17th, the Robert Koch Institute for public health announced that the rate of infection – the number of people each ill person contaminates – had dropped below one for the first time, leading Health Minister Jens Spahn to declare the virus “under control”.
Yet Merkel, who was herself quarantined for two weeks earlier this month. before testing negative for the virus, has warned that Germany's success remains “fragile”.
Coronavirus lockdown exit strategies debated
Debate over when and how to lift Germany's partial lockdown measures – which were initially in place until April 19th – was growing in the week beginning April 13th, particularly as neighbouring countries have been announcing plans to relax curbs.
A poll conducted on behalf of DPA by the opinion research institute YouGov, found that many Germans are wary of lifting the restrictions too soon.
On Wednesday April 15th, Chancellor Merkel of the centre-right Christian Democrats (CDU) discussed with Germany's state premiers how to proceed after the Easter holidays end on April 19th.
Pandemic 'a test of humanity, not war'
On Saturday April 11th, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier gave a powerful Easter message through a TV address, calling the coronavirus pandemic a “test of our humanity” rather than a war.
The crisis caused by Covid-19 “brings out the best and the worst in people,” Steinmeier said in a rare televised address.
“No, this pandemic is not a war. Nations are not in conflict with each other and nor are their soldiers. This is a test of our humanity,” Steinmeier said.
Last month, French President Emmanuel Macron had described the fight against the virus was a “war”.
“Let's show other people the best in us. And please show it also throughout Europe”, the German president urged, saying that the country would not be able to emerge healthy and strong from the pandemic unless the rest of Europe could do the same.
The most thunderous Easter message of recent times ?? pic.twitter.com/ylqGkOuUUc
— Antonello Guerrera (@antoguerrera) April 12, 2020
Merkel urges patience
On Thursday April 9th Merkel urged people to be patient and stick to the social distancing measures, especially during Germany's four-day Easter Weekend.
“We must not allow ourselves to be lulled into a false sense of security,” the Chancellor warned at a press conference.
She said restrictions would only be lifted “slowly”, she said, with their effectiveness reviewed on a “two to three week basis”.
“We must not be careless now – we must remain focused – the situation is fragile,” added Merkel as she urged Germans to abide by the rules over Easter weekend so that they would not “endanger” what’s been achieved so far.
Health Minister Jens Spahn on Thursday April 9th said: “In the near future, the main task will be to quickly identify and isolate those infected by means of broad testing. And then to track down and isolate their contacts.
“This is the only way we can break chains of infection.”
Meanwhile, EU chief Ursula von der Leyen said Sunday that elderly people may face stricter self-isolation measures than younger people until the end of the year.
“Without a vaccine, we have to limit as much as possible contact with the elderly,” she told the Germany daily Bild.
“I know it's difficult and that isolation is a burden, but it is a question of life or death, we have to remain disciplined and patient,” she added.
Tram passangers in Jena on Monday, April 6th. The eastern city was the first in Germany to make wearing a mask mandatory. Photo: DPA
On Tuesday April 7th, Germany's centre for disease control, the Robert Koch Institute urged people with smartwatches and fitness bands to share their health data to help keep track of the spread of the coronavirus.
The free app will log a person's postcode, age and weight and keep track of any changes in activity and sleep habits, heart rate or even body temperature that could be symptoms of an acute respiratory disease, RKI head Lothar Wieler said at a press conference.
According to RKI chief Wieler, the so-called reproduction rate of infections stood at around 1.3 on Wednesday April 8th. This number indicates how many more people a person with coronavirus infects on average. The goal in Germany is to keep the value below 1.0.
That would mean someone with coronavirus would infect on average less than one other person – and that would lead to the virus being slowly contained.
A new study by a team of scientists from the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz (JGU) and the University of Hamburg, has found that if the current partial lockdown measures remain in place up until April 19th, the peak of the epidemic could occur in Germany in early June.
Graph translated for The Local by Statista.
How will Germany emerge from lockdown?
A new internal government draft action plan, viewed by some media outlets including the Tagesspiegel, sheds some light on what Germany’s path out of its current partial lockdown could look like.
The paper showed how the country could transition back to normal life as the pandemic eases.
It says the strict measures should be relaxed as quickly as possible. Even though the pandemic will probably go on until 2021, it can be kept under control without an “extensive lockdown”, says the paper.
Among the ideas, the draft plan states that some retailers and restaurants could reopen after the lockdown lifts and in certain regions schools could reopen.
Major events and private parties are to remain banned for a longer period of time, while the paper recommends making it compulsory to wear protective masks in buses, trains, factories and other buildings.
There would also be rapid tracing of infection chains, with coronavirus infected people having to quarantine at home or in hotels.
Meanwhile, Bavaria's state premier Markus Söder said it was “highly likely” that when Germany loosens its restrictions on public life, a requirement to wear a mask would follow.
Fines stepped up for flouting lockdown rules
Local governments across the Bundesrepublik have been setting fines for those who flout the restrictions, which include a ban on gatherings of more than two outside if they are not of the same household or family members.
Berlin has also amended some of its regulations – now people no longer have to carry ID or proof of address in public. Meanwhile, the local government has said short rest breaks are allowed on public benches while people are outside exercising if they maintain 1.5 metres from others.
People can also take a break from exercise and sit on grass in green spaces, for example, but there must be a 5 metre distance from others.
Measures taken by officials to slow the spread of coronavirus are starting to show effect, the Robert Koch Institute for disease control said on Friday April 3rd.
We are seeing that the spread of the virus is getting slower… it's working,” said RKI president Wieler, stressing that restrictions on public life “need to be maintained”.
Wieler warned, however, that the number of infections and deaths due to coronavirus will continue to increase. He had said earlier in the week that the crisis would continue “for weeks and months”.
Also on Friday Aparil 3rd, Merkel returned to office after spending nearly two weeks in self-isolation. She had come into contact with a doctor who was diagnosed with Covid-19. She was tested several times and all tests came back negative.
The chancellor's popularity has soared during the coronavirus crisis, with Germans impressed by her calm and measured response.
'Ban on contact' restrictions extended
Chancellor Merkel announced Wednesday April 1st that Germany was to extend its current restrictions on public life to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus by two weeks until April 19th.
They were again extended until May 3rd when Merkel spoke on April 15th.
On March 22nd, Germany ordered restaurants shut and banned gatherings of more than two people to slow the spread of Covid-19.
Certain individual states including Bavaria – Germany's largest state – had already announced an extension, and others were following suit.
Meanwhile, Labour Minister Hubertus Heil revealed that 470,000 firms in Germany had applied for “Kurzarbeit”, a measure that sees the government top up the pay of workers placed on shorter hours by their employer, preserving the contractual relationship for the time when activity can continue again.
Heil said the number of individual people affected would likely top the peak of 1.4 million seen in the 2009 financial crisis.
The majority of cases are in Bavaria, where a strict lockdown is in place. It's followed by North-Rhine Westphalia.
On Tuesday, March 31st, the city of Jena became the first in Germany to announce it was introducing compulsory protective face masks that people must wear in shops, on public transportation, and in buildings with public access.
It's sparked a debate over whether this should be rolled out Germany-wide. However, experts are divided on how helpful they are.
On Wednesday April 1st, the RKI updated the advice on its website to say that more widespread use could help slow the coronavirus spread.
However, on Friday head of the RKI, Wieler, said there was no strategy change in Germany regarding this point.
Looking to South Korea
The German government has said it is currently considering a push to expand coronavirus testing, looking to South Korea as a role model.
Germany is already carrying out more coronavirus tests than any other European country at a rate of 300,000 to 500,000 a week, according to officials.
But the government aims to ramp that up to at least 200,000 tests a day, according to an interior ministry document seen by several German media outlets.
On Friday March 27th the upper house of Germany's parliament approved a coronavirus rescue package, green-lighting almost €1.1 trillion to shield Europe's largest economy from the impact of the pandemic, as well as give support to people, businesses and hospital.
Representatives of Germany's federal states in the Bundesrat rubber-stamped the unprecedented measures, which include €156 billion of new borrowing, support for business and the health system, as well as hundreds of billions in guarantees for bank loans to firms.
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See also on The Local:
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When did strict contact restrictions come into force?
On Sunday, March 22nd a government spokesman announced that Merkel had gone into domestic quarantine after coming into contact with a doctor who has been diagnosed with COVID-19. However, the chancellor is doing well after all three of her tests came back negative.
Merkel was told the news after a press conference during which she announced that gatherings of more than two people will be banned in public in Germany to control the spread of the novel coronavirus.
A full 95 percent of Germans are in support of the new measures, according to a poll conducted Monday, March 23rd by public broadcaster ARD.
“Our own behaviour is the most effective way” of slowing the rate of infection, Merkel said of the unprecedented nationwide measures, which are initially slated to remain in force for two weeks.
On introducing the stricter measures, lawmakers stopped short of ordering a nationwide lockdown.
However some states and towns have introduced stricter measures. Bavaria and Saarland became the first German states to enforce curfews, and the east German state of Saxony also enforces one now.
On Tuesday March 24th, North Rhine-Westphalia became the first German state to reveal fines aimed at those who violate new restrictions.
Merkel urged everyone to play a part in slowing down a virus that has raced across the globe and triggered unprecedented peace-time lockdowns.
“The situation is serious. Take it seriously,” she said. “Not since German reunification, no, not since the Second World War has our country faced a challenge that depends so much on our collective solidarity.”
The German government announced on Thursday March 19th that it would prepare a €40 billion aid package for freelancers and small businesses of up to 10 employees who are affected by the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.
The RKI on Tuesday March 17th raised the risk level from the virus in Germany to “high” – and in some regions “very high” – up from the “moderate” rating it had given before.
The German government has provided information on its homepage breaking down the virus and trying to quell fears.
Apart from school closures, several hospitals and workplaces – including for large international companies such as BMW – have been temporarily closed.
Many people, where possible, have also been told to work from home.
Keeping better track of travellers within the country and ensuring easy contact in case of outbreak is what authorities are focusing on, too.
Travellers entering Germany by train or bus will have to give more information about where they plan to stay.
Concerts have been cancelled, events postponed and nightclubs have shut as the country fights coronavirus.
For the first time ever on Tuesday, March 10th, a Bundesliga game was played completely behind closed doors. Now games have been suspended.
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How are people in Germany reacting?
An employee in a Dresden supermarket sits behind a Plexiglas panel with a so-called “spit shield” at the checkout on Tuesday, March 24th. Photo: DPA
People in Germany have been showing their concern through buying up supplies: particularly dried and tinned food, hand sanitiser, toilet roll and face masks.
However, authorities say there is no need to panic buy as food and other products will not become scarce.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms are similar to colds and flu – as the virus belongs to the same family – and include a cough, headache, fatigue, fever, aching and difficulty breathing.
Some people have also reported a loss of smell and taste.
It is primarily spread through airborne contact or contact with contaminated objects.
Its incubation period is two to 14 days, with an average of seven days. People with any symptoms are being advised to stay at home and try and avoid all social contact.
It's recommended to wash hands for 20 seconds to prevent the spread of bacteria. Photo: DPA
Important telephone numbers
If you show symptoms, the German government advises against going to a hospital or doctor's waiting room where others can be infected, and instead recommends self-isolating and try calling a medical hotline.
Although be aware that health workers are extremely busy and it may be difficult to get through. It is likely you will only be tested for coronavirus if there are justified suspicions with symptoms (for example if you have been in contact with someone who is confirmed to have COVID-19).
Doctors will decide whether a diagnosis makes sense after a consultation.
Here are some useful numbers but also check with the local health authority where you live for further information:
The non-emergency medical on-call service for Germany is 116 117. The emergency number is 112.
The independent patient advice service Germany is 0800 011 77 22.
The Ministry of Health number is 030 346 465 100.
Bavaria's health ministry has set up a hotline 09131 6808-5101 open Monday-Friday 8 am to 8 pm, and 6 to 8 pm at the weekend.
People in Berlin can contact the hotline: 030 902 828 28 daily from 8am to 8pm and consult an official webpage with up-to date information.
Those living in Brandenburg can contact the hotline 033 186 83777 from 9am to 3pm Monday through Friday.
People in Baden-Württemberg can call the hotline 0711 904-39555 from 9 am to 6 pm everyday and has a website providing up-to-date information.
In Hamburg concerned residents can call 040 428 284 000, and it's available at any time of day.
The state of Hesse has set up a hotline for questions about coronavirus: 0800 555 4666, Monday to Friday from 8am to 8pm.
The North Rhine-Westphalian Ministry of Health has set up a citizens' number for questions about coronavirus: 0211 855 4774, Monday to Friday from 8am to 6pm.
For Rhineland-Palatinate, the state has set up a hotline for questions: 0800 575 8100, Mondays to Thursdays from 9am to 4pm and Fridays from 9am to 12 noon.
In Thuringia, the State Office for Consumer Protection has a hotline at: 0361 573 815 099, Mondays to Fridays from 9am to noon and from 1.30pm to 3pm.
How much of a threat is posed by the virus?
For most young people or middle-aged people, the virus is not life-threatening if they are overall healthy. The RKI has said that 80 percent of those who get it show mild symptoms.
Most of those who are ill probably only show an infection of the upper respiratory tract, i.e. cold-like symptoms.
However, it is still not completely clear under what conditions the disease changes its stage in some patients. For example, it can cause more severe symptoms when it reaches the lungs. Men are also said to be more likely to be infected than women.
With additional reporting by AFP.