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HEALTH

Germany bans gatherings of more than two to control coronavirus spread

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Sunday that gatherings of more than two people will be banned in public to control the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Germany bans gatherings of more than two to control coronavirus spread
People at Berlin's Tempelhof field on Sunday. Photo: DPA

“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.

The new restrictions were agreed on by Merkel and the leaders of Germany’s 16 states in a telephone conference on Sunday. 

READ ALSO: 'Saturday is a crucial day': Germany to decide if coronavirus lockdown necessary

“Staying in public places is only permitted alone, with another person not living in the household or with members of one's own household,” their resolution stated.

As of Sunday evening, there were a total of more than 24,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany, with more than 90 deaths.

The stricter measures are intended to prevent a rapid spread of the virus so that the health care system will not be overloaded and intensive care beds in hospitals remain free for seriously ill infected persons.

According to Merkel, people in Germany are required to reduce contact with other people outside the members of their own household to an absolutely necessary minimum. 

In public, wherever possible, a minimum distance of at least 1.5 metres must be maintained from people other than relatives from their own household.

People at Berlin's Tempelhof field on Sunday. Photo: DPA

No strict curfew

The politicians opted for these rules in lieu of a strict lockdown, which has already been put in place by other European countries such as France, Spain and Italy. 

On Friday, the states of Bavaria and Saarland decided to enforce lockdowns, with Saxony also opting for a curfew over the weekend which goes into effect on Monday. While the specifics of each curfew vary, they don’t permit leaving the home except for essential reasons.

READ ALSO: Bavaria and Saarland become first German states to impose lockdowns

The nationwide restrictions allow people to leave the house for activities they need to do.

“It is possible to go to work, receive emergency care, go shopping, visit the doctor, participate in meetings, necessary appointments and examinations, do individual sports and exercise in the fresh air – as well as other necessary activities,” reads the resolution.

Groups of people celebrating not only in public places, but also in apartments and private facilities are unacceptable, said Merkel. 

Police will fine those who are caught breaking the restrictions, said Merkel, without specifying the amount.

Cafes, restaurants and pubs are to be closed nationwide but takeaway will be allowed. “Catering establishments will be closed,” the resolution states. The delivery and collection of take-away food for consumption at home remains permitted.

Merkel appealed to citizens' “reason and empathy” in implementing the  contact restrictions, saying she had been “very moved” by how closely people  had stuck to less stringent measures implemented in recent days.

“That's how we can save lives,” the chancellor recalled.

“It's of vital, vital importance to obey the rule” to remain at least two metres away from other people, Merkel said, adding “at that distance the risk  of infection is close to zero.”

Asked if she too was respecting the distancing requirements, Merkel said  “my life has fundamentally changed and mostly consists of telephone and video conferences”.

 

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COVID-19

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.

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