Bavaria declares ‘disaster’ situation in bid to fight coronavirus crisis

The southern German state of Bavaria has declared a 'disaster' situation with new extreme restrictions on public life in a bid to slow down the spread of coronavirus.

Bavaria declares 'disaster' situation in bid to fight coronavirus crisis
State premier Markus Söder on Monday. Photo: DPA

Bavaria declared the disaster (Katastrophenfall) on Monday March 16th to allow the state’s authorities to push through new restrictions faster, including possibly asking the German Armed Forces (Bundeswehr) for assistance.

State premier Markus Söder announced the new status and restrictions on Monday. He described them as “drastic” but said social contact must be limited as much as possible in a bid to stop the spread of the virus.

“The situation is very serious and changes daily, unfortunately not for the better,” said Söder.

Most restrictions come into force from Tuesday and throughout the week.

Other parts of Germany, including Berlin and Cologne, are imposing strict restrictions on public life. 

As of Monday, there were a total of 886 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Bavaria (6,245 in total in Germany).

Why have they declared a disaster?

In the past disaster situations have been declared in certain districts in cases of extreme flooding or snowfall.

But it's the first time the state as a whole has declared this situation. The regional government has done so that authorities and organisations can be coordinated at the state level.

It also makes it easier to recruit volunteers.

READ ALSO: What's the latest on coronavirus in Germany and what do I need to know?

The new restrictions are divided into three areas. Here's a breakdown of them:

1. General life

“There is no curfew, at least not at the moment,” Söder said.

People in Bavaria can continue to go to work (although working from home is advised where possible).

However, residents should consider if other activities outside are necessary, and if not they should remain at home.

Events are no longer allowed, except private small gatherings (for example between family members) at home.

This is in force until at least the end of the Easter holidays which finish on April 19th.

Schools and day care centres (Kitas) will remain closed until the end of the Easter holidays.

From Tuesday onwards, everything that falls under the recreational facilities sector will be closed.

This includes: sauna and bathing facilities, cinemas, conference and event rooms, clubs, bars, amusement arcades, theatres, club rooms, brothels, museums, guided tours of the city, sports halls, sports and playgrounds, fitness studios, libraries, wellness studios, thermal baths, dance schools, zoos, amusement parks, further education and training facilities, adult education centres, music schools and youth centres.

Changes to restaurants and shops

From Wednesday onwards, new rules will be in place for the catering industry. Generally, only restaurants and company canteens will be allowed to remain open, and only from 6 until 3pm.

A distance of 1.5 metres must be maintained between guests in the restaurants. A maximum of 30 people at one time can be in one venue. After 3pm it's only possible to take food away, or use a delivery service or drive-through.

All retail shops will have to close. But these shops will remain open: all grocery stores, beverage markets, banks, pharmacies, drugstores, DIY and garden centres, medical supply stores, opticians, hearing aid specialists, post offices, pet supplies, petrol stations, dry cleaners and online shops.

These stores are now allowed to be open until 10pm on weekdays, and also from 12 to 6 p.m. on Sundays. But Söder appealed to citizens not to panic buy in supermarkets.

Companies should remain open, and public transport is to continue.

Strict border controls to Austria have been introduced. German nationals and residents of the Bundesrepublik may still enter Germany at any time, and goods delivery and commuter traffic is continuing.

READ ALSO: Germany tourism giant TUI suspends most operations over coronavirus fears

2. The medical sector

Support for the health authorities will be stepped up to ensure they have adequate supplies and equipment.

Coronavirus testing capacities will be significantly expanded. But tests will only be carried out if symptoms are present to prevent overloading the system.

Hospitals will be completely geared towards coronavirus treatment: pandemic plans will be drawn up and space will be maintained. Rehabilitation clinics and general practices will also be included in the process.

University hospitals are being switched from research to care.

A protective shield is being developed for the municipal hospitals so that the hospitals can continue to operate economically.

Medical students are asked to be available as staff. Retired doctors and staff on parental leave will also be asked to help.

READ ALSO: Merkel calls for social contact 'to be avoided where possible'

3. The economy

To protect the Bavarian economy from the consequences of the crisis, Bavaria is making up to €10 billion in special funds available.

“No one will be left alone,” said Söder.

The authorities will support businesses in a number of ways.

For example, an organisation has been set up that gives the state the chance to invest in companies and protect them from the threat of going bust. This means firms can stay afloat and after a certain period of time the state can withdraw.

There will be immediate aid for companies in need, under the rules.

This includes support for businesses in the catering, tourism or trade sector, and also for all those working in the cultural sector.

According to Söder, it should be possible to obtain aid of between €5,000 and €30,000 without lots of bureaucracy.

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Munich sees sharp rise in Covid cases after Oktoberfest

Since the start of Germany’s Oktoberfest, the incidence of Covid infections in Munich has risen sharply. Though a connection with the festival can’t yet be proven, it seems likely.

Munich sees sharp rise in Covid cases after Oktoberfest

Two weeks after the start of Oktoberfest, the Covid numbers in Munich have more than tripled.

On Sunday, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported an incidence of 768.7 for the city of Munich, though updated figures for the end of the festival are not expected until later in the week. Usually, on weekends and public holidays, there is a delay in reports.

In the entire state of Bavaria, the incidence value on Sunday was 692.5.

According to Munich’s public health officer, Beatrix Zurek, bed occupancy in Munich hospitals has also increased. Two weeks ago, 200 beds in Munich were occupied by Covid patients, whereas there are now around 350.

Though a relationship between the sharp rise in infections with Oktoberfest, which ended on Monday, can’t be proven at the moment, it seems very likely, according to experts. A significant increase in Covid incidences has also been shown at other public festivals – about one and a half weeks after the start. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s famed Oktoberfest opens after two-year pandemic hiatus

After a two-year break due to the pandemic, around 5.7 million visitors came to this year’s Wiesn according to the festival management – around 600,000 fewer than at the last Oktoberfest before the pandemic in 2019, when there were 6.3 million.

Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) took to Twitter to comment on the rise in incidence in Munich during the Oktoberfest. “This would not have been necessary if self-tests had been taken before admission,” he said.

“Compared to the price of a measure of beer, €2-3 (for tests) wouldn’t have mattered,” he said.

Even before the start of the Wiesn, he had spoken out in favour of people taking voluntary self-tests. Lauterbach stressed that now is the time for special measures against Covid.

“The development shows what will happen if the states wait too long with the mask obligation in indoor areas,” he added.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Germany’s new Covid-19 rules from October

In neighbouring counties, where many Oktoberfest visitors came from, the number of Covid cases has also risen noticeably.  Beatrix Zurek said that it is unclear, however, how much of a role Oktoberfest played in these figures, as people are currently much more active socially overall, with concerts and other events also taking place throughout the state.

Christoph Spinner, an infections specialist at Munich’s Klinikum, has urged people not to be alarmed by the rising numbers.

“We had expected rising incidences here. We knew that there could be a doubling, tripling, even quadrupling,” he said.

He said that this is no cause for concern, as many people have been vaccinated or have also recovered from previous Covid infections, so any new infections are therefore usually mild.

The virologist advises people over 60 or with pre-existing conditions to get a second booster vaccination, but otherwise said people shouldn’t be alarmed by the rising incidences.