Coronavirus: What restrictions are there on daily life in Germany?

Coronavirus: What restrictions are there on daily life in Germany?
A school in Brandenburg with a closure notice. Photo: DPA
As the number of cases of coronavirus in Germany continues to rise, authorities are taking extra measures to try and contain the illness, and have issued a plea for people to pull together. Here's what you need to know.

Countries across Europe are reacting differently when it comes to the spread of coronavirus.

Italy, which remains the European country worst affected by the outbreak, has brought in far-reaching quarantine rules to try and contain the virus. 

While the situation in Germany has not reached this level, the government has stepped up calls for residents to do their bit to slow down the spread.

At the moment Germany is acting cautiously when it comes to closures and imposing quarantines or further restrictions.

However, authorities have warned that there will be changes to daily life for residents in Germany as the outbreak worsens.

On Tuesday Bavaria announced it was prohibiting events with more than 1,000 people in the southern state up to and including April 19th.

For events with 500 to 1000 persons, the state government is also recommending that organisers cancel them.

You can follow the latest on the situation in Germany here.

Here's everything we know so far and what officials are recommending.

'The virus will change daily life'

In a remarkable plea published on Tuesday in the German daily Bild newspaper, Health Minister Jens Spahn called on people in Germany to pull together in the face of the coronavirus outbreak.  

“We need each other,” he said, because the coronavirus outbreak is a “great challenge for society as a whole”. 

“Our doctors are usually able to treat the symptoms well,” continued Spahn. “But the virus will change our daily life. We can only do this together.”

Spahn said the health system in Germany would be able to cope better if fewer people became infected at the same time. 

“The elderly and chronically ill in particular depend on a sufficient number of available intensive care beds,” he said. 

Echoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s comments on stalling the spread, Spahn said:  “The primary goal is therefore to slow down the outbreak.”

A sign in the local government in Thuringia urging people not to shake hands. Photo: DPA

Here are some of the measures in place.

No gatherings with over 1,000 people

Authorities in Germany have strongly recommended that events with more than 1,000 people should be cancelled. 

“I expressly encourage those responsible to cancel events with more than 1,000 participants until further notice,” Health Minister Jens Spahn said at a press conference on Monday.

READ ALSO: Germany urges events with more than 1,000 to be cancelled over coronavirus

A series of events have already been axed in Germany, such as the Berlin travel fair ITB, the Hannover Messe and the Leipzig Book Fair.

The latest recommendation will lead to the postponement or cancellation of many more events, including football matches and music concerts. For the first time ever in Germany, a Bundesliga game was to be played behind closed doors with no fans in attendance.

“One thing is clear: the safety of all of us comes first – even before economic interests,” Spahn said in the Bild commentary.

Bavaria premier Markus Söder said the state was officially banning events with over 1,000 people until at least April 19th in a bid to slow down the spread of the virus.

Among the events being banned are opera and theatre performances as well as sports games, although some could be held without spectators.

Söder said: “When in doubt, cancel the event.”

Demonstrating Germany's cautiousness in putting in place tough measures, Spahn said: “Restricting public life is not an easy decision. Public life is part of democracy. That should remain so. That is why we must proceed carefully and calmly.”

Spahn said the country was counting on citizens to do their bit to help out and rethink their social calendar.

“What can we do without for a while: going on holiday? Attending a concert? Going to football or ice hockey?” he said. 

“What degree of restriction makes sense, how do we keep our balance with our everyday life, which goes on?”

Limit travel

 
People should refrain from unnecessary travel to Italy, which has a strict movement ban in place until April 3rd, and also North Rhine-Westphalia in the west of Germany. The worst hit part of NRW is the district of Heinsberg, which has about 250,000 residents.
 
For more information on travelling in and out of Germany click here and for a list of the countries people from Germany are facing bans or restrictions to travel to at the moment click here.

School closures

Individual schools and nurseries have been closed across parts of Germany as a precautionary measure if they are linked to a case or cases of coronavirus, in a bid to contain the spread.

The German Teachers' Association (Deutsche Lehrerverband, or DL) estimates that around 100 schools and daycare centres across Germany are currently affected by closings.

In some areas, such as Heinsberg in North Rhine-Westphalia, all schools have been closed for the time being. Some doctors surgeries and other facilities have also shut their doors if there's a threat of the virus spreading.

Spahn said he was sceptical about widespread school closures in Germany because it would mean parents, especially those who work in hospitals for example, might be unable to work.

Working from home

Lots of employers have recommended that workers do “home office” during the outbreak to bring down the risk of the virus spreading.

Germany announced this week measures to support workers who have their hours cut due to the outbreak, and for companies affected by it.

As of Monday, employees who need to take sick leave may now do so for seven days – rather than the previous three – without an official doctor's note.

No masks

In the face of panic-buying of surgical masks – meaning that people who need them were struggling to find any – the German government called on people to avoid buying masks or protective equipment, and instead leave them for medical professionals and those who need them. 

The official advice is that the only people who need to wear a mask are  those who are sick, self isolating after having been in contact with a patient or having recently returned from an affected areas, or those caring for a sick person.

Everyone else does not need to wear one and masks do not protect you from the virus – they are to stop people potentially infecting others.

READ ALSO:

Wash hands

The Health Minister said everyone in Germany can help slow down the spread with improved hygiene habits such as washing hands regularly.

People disinfecting their hands at an event in Koblenz. Photo: DPA

Here's the advice to follow:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly and often with soap and water, especially after coughing and sneezing, before eating or if you have been touching surfaces that many other people will have touched such as on public transport. 
  •  Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, especially with unwashed hands.    

  •  Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing. Use your elbow rather than your hands

  •   Use disposable tissues and throw them away after use

  • Clean off surfaces with alcohol- or chlorine-based disinfectants.

Will Germany impose lockdowns like in Italy?

In Germany the cases are still largely concentrated in several 'cluster' zones and some states – mostly in the east – have reported only a handful of cases.

For this reason German authorities appear to be keeping most measures on a regional level, to allow for the seriousness of the situation in different parts of the country.

READ ALSO: 'Huge wave of solidarity': How North Rhine-Westphalia is coping with the spread of coronavirus

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer previously said shutting down areas would be a “last resort”.

How are people in Germany reacting?

Life is continuing as normal across most parts of Germany, except the clusters where coronavirus cases are particularly high.

There is as yet no local or regional transport disruption.

Anecdotal evidence does suggest, though, that many people in Germany are panic-buying (in German this phenomenon is known as Hamsterkäufe). Items such as toilet paper, hand sanitizer and soap are selling out in some supermarkets.

What’s next?

That's what we don't know. Authorities have not ruled out additional restrictions. In fact, they say we should expect more.

Spahn said the peak of the outbreak was yet to come. 

“We expect a further increase in the number of infections, we’ve seen the first deaths, also in Germany. There will be further restrictions in our everyday life.”

Spahn has previously said that the government is updating its medical guidelines to make sure that overstretched health workers concentrate their efforts “on the most acute” cases if the outbreak worsens.

That could also mean that non-urgent surgeries would be postponed.

Spahn added that people in Germany had been level-headed so far and paid tribute to medical staff “on the front line in the fight against corona”.

Lastly he urged residents: “We will cope with this situation. If we all help, stick together and trust each other even under stress, it will work. And it works best together.”


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