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‘A pandemic knows no holidays’: Germany extends coronavirus curbs on public life

Germany will extend its current restrictions on public life to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus by two weeks until April 19th, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday.

'A pandemic knows no holidays': Germany extends coronavirus curbs on public life
The near-empty Görlitzer Park in central Berlin on Wednesday afternoon. Photo: DPA

“We assessed the situation today and confirmed that the restrictions…will be valid up to and including April 19th. We will reassess the situation on the Tuesday after Easter,” Merkel said in a telephone conference following a video meeting with regional state premiers.

German authorities on March 22nd ordered restaurants shut and banned gatherings of more than two people to slow the spread of COVID-19.

READ ALSO: Germany bans gatherings of more than two to control coronavirus spread

The restrictions were initially slated to last two weeks, but will now be extended until April 19, to coincide with the end of the Easter school holidays.

Certain individual states including Bavaria – Germany's largest state – had already announced an extension, and others will now follow suit in the coming days.
 
 
 
Merkel noted that the lengthened period of curbs means families may not be able to visit each other during Easter celebrations in Germany.
 
But she warned that a “pandemic does not recognise holidays”.
 
The government has repeatedly rejected calls to relax the measures in recent days, with Merkel calling on the public to “be patient” in a podcast last weekend.
 
Chancellor Angela Merkel announcing the restrictions on March 22nd. Photo: DPA
 
On Wednesday, the Chancellor reiterated that it was “much too early to think about loosening the restrictions”.
 
“It would be much worse to do it too early, and we are still very far away from what we need to achieve,” she said.

She pointed out that the number of infections was still rising sharply in Germany, and said that any reassessment of the measures would be based on the advice of the Robert Koch Institute for public health (RKI), which is leading the country's fight against the virus.

Merkel said that the contact restrictions were being observed well. On the Tuesday after Easter, or April 14th, the federal and state governments would reassess the situation based, among other things, on data from the RKI.
 
As of Wednesday at 5pm, there were over 73,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany and 815 deaths, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University.
 
 
Chancellor in self-isolation
 
Merkel is currently working from home, like millions of other Germans, after coming into contact with a doctor who was diagnosed with COVID-19.
 
The Chancellor has tested negative for coronavirus three times, however, her spokesman on Monday said she would continue to carry out duties from her home in the coming days.

While in isolation, Merkel has held government meetings via video link.

On Saturday she released an audio message thanking Germans for heeding the country's unprecedented confinement measures and avoiding unnecessary social contacts.

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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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