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What are Berlin’s new rules to ease the coronavirus lockdown?

States across Germany are deciding how they will relax lockdown restrictions while trying to control the spread of coronavirus. Here’s what to know about Berlin’s latest regulations.

What are Berlin's new rules to ease the coronavirus lockdown?
A woman with a face mask cycling past the Alte Nationalgalerie in Berlin on April 20th. Photo: DPA

We updated this story on May 4th.

From Wednesday April 22nd, shops with a retail space of up to 800 square metres were allowed to open again in Berlin under strict hygiene and social distancing conditions.

It's part of a host of a new measures aiming at gradually bringing back public life in the German capital.

But authorities were keen to stress that the coronavirus epidemic was far from over and urged people to follow the rules.

Ramona Pop, Berlin senator for economics, energy and business, said on Tuesday April 21st that it was still a “crisis situation”.

She said: “In view of the epidemiological situation, any relaxation must be responsible and not lead to a second wave of infections.

“It must therefore be clear that contact restrictions and distance regulations remain the order of the day.”

She said opening the retail trade was not about allowing people to “stroll and linger” in shops or malls.

“We must not jeopardise what we have achieved through our joint responsible action,” she said. “In order to avoid a second lockdown, everyone is urgently called upon to do everything possible to prevent a further increase in infection rates, which could lead to another complete economic shutdown.”

As of Monday May 4th, Berlin had about 6,010 confirmed coronavirus cases (up from 5,300 on April 22nd). Of those, about 5,091 people have recovered and 154 people have have died (up from 105 on April 22nd), according to Johns Hopkins University figures.

Here's some other important points about Berlin's new rules:

Strict rules for shops

Only one customer per 20 square meters is allowed in the store, and a minimum distance of 1.5 metres must be maintained between people.

Access to shopping centres (malls) has to be regulated by the operator, and there should be no large queues on the pavement outside.

No one should be allowed to hang around or relax in malls. The Berlin government has called for seating areas to be blocked off.

Meanwhile, no more than 10 people can be in the waiting areas of shopping centres at any one time.

Grocery stores, DIY stores, garden centres, craft supply stores, car dealerships, bicycle and book shops can reopen, regardless of size.

READ ALSO: Germany to begin easing coronavirus curbs in coming weeks

Limit social contact

The contact restrictions, which came into place on March 23rd, remain in place in Berlin, in line with the Germany-wide rules.

Limiting social contact is intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus and should be reduced to an absolute minimum, with the exception of the people you are already living with in the same household. 

You can meet with one other person outdoors, but should maintain a distance of at least 1.5 meters to that person. You are allowed to take rest breaks outside.

Face masks mandatory on public transport

Residents have to wear a mouth and nose cover when travelling on public transport in Berlin from Monday April 27th. It was later extended to include shops in line with other German states.

Transport operator BVG, however, has said it will not monitor compliance with the obligation. BVG also said it wanted to resume normal operations from May 4th. It had been running a scaled-back service in view of falling passenger numbers due to the coronavirus crisis.

READ ALSO: Berlin joins other German states to make masks compulsory

Restaurants and bars closed

Restaurants, pubs, bars, cafes and clubs will remain closed for the time being – in both Berlin as well as in neighbouring state Brandenburg.

Hotels are also not allowed to reopen to tourists, in line with Germany-wide recommendations.

Commercial excursions and tours are not allowed.

Restaurants are able to offer takeaway as is the case currently.

Museums and libraries

Museums, memorials, non-commercial galleries and similar educational institutions in public and private ownership can reopen from May 4th, provided that hygiene rules are observed.

Public libraries may be opened for lending from May 4th, also with safety measures in place.

Face masks will be mandatory on public transport in Berlin. Photo: DPA

Gatherings

In general, events and gatherings of more than two people (excluding families/households) are not allowed. But important family events of up to 20 people are possible if there are good reasons. These can include to be with someone who is dying, funerals, christenings or weddings.

For outdoor gatherings of up to 20 people, the authority may grant exceptions to the ‘ban on contact’ up until May 3rd, provided there is a valid reason for doing so.

From May 4th, open-air meetings and religious events with up to 50 people are allowed, provided that the minimum distance (1.5 metres) and compliance with hygiene rules are ensured.

Events

Events with more than 1,000 people are banned until August 31st, in line with Germany-wide restrictions.

Theatres and other performance venues such as operas and concert halls remain closed until July 31st, the end of the season.

Large events with more than 5,000 participants will remain prohibited until October 24th. The Berlin Marathon, which last year brought in more than 47,000 participants from around the world, will be cancelled.

Swimming pools and sports facilities

All public and private sports facilities, swimming pools, fitness studios, saunas and other facilities are not allowed to open at this time. 

No-contact sports activities on outdoor facilities are permitted as long as they are performed alone, with members of your own household or with one other person, without any other group formation. 

Zoos and Botanical Garden

The outdoor areas of Zoologischer Garten and Tierpark-Berlin can be opened to the public subject to compliance with hygiene regulations.

The outdoor areas of the Botanical Gardens may be opened to the public from April 27th, subject to compliance with hygiene rules.

Hairdressing salons

Hairdressers can reopen from May 4th, in line with Germany-wide recommendations. Strict hygiene measures must be in place.

Beauty salons, tattoo studios and similar venues are not allowed to open.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about plans for Germany's states to ease lockdown

Schools and universities

Schools can open in Berlin from April 27th, provided that the hygiene rules are in place. Schools will open gradually and the local authorities are putting together more information on how this will happen safely.

School trips will not be allowed.

The Berlin Senate is also planning to bring Kita care back in phased stages, with single parents being entitled to care for their children from Monday April 27th.

Care services for youngsters will be resumed “gradually and quickly” in steps over the coming months according to Berlin authorities.

As a first step, from April 27th, significantly more parents will have a right to care of their children.

These include: single parents and all parents working in essential sectors. Parents should contact the hotline on: (030) 9028-2828 if they have any questions.

Senator Sandra Scheeres said: “Overall, we want to return to normality as quickly as possible. We must take health protection into account in all steps.”

Police patrolling a Berlin park. Photo: DPA

What about adult education centres?

Adult education centres, music schools and driving schools can not open for the time being.

Universities' libraries and archives can reopen to lend books from April 27th, subject to compliance with the hygiene rules.

What happens next?

Chancellor Angela Merkel met with state leaders on April 30th. Another meeting will take place on May 6th to discuss the next steps.

Authorities are constantly monitoring the coronavirus infection rate and the rules could be tightened if the situation gets worse.

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COVID-19 RULES

Bavaria signals end to compulsory masks on public transport

Bavaria's state premier Markus Söder (CSU) has announced plans for a "prompt" end to mandatory masks on buses and trains.

Bavaria signals end to compulsory masks on public transport

If infection levels and hospitalisations remain low, the end of the mask-wearing rule could come as soon as December or January.

“We are convinced that the mask requirement in public transport could also be phased out either in mid-December or early next year, if the numbers remain reasonably stable and there are no new mutations,” Söder explained on Monday, following a meeting with the CSU executive committee. 

A decision on when to end the measure would be made “promptly”, he added.

The CSU politician had said last week that the sinking infection rates meant that compulsory masks were no longer appropriate and that the mandate could be changed to a recommendation. 

No set date for change

The latest version of Bavaria’s Infection Protection Act – which lays out an obligation to wear masks on public transport as one of the few remaining Covid rules – is currently due to expire on December 9th.

State ministers could decide whether to let obligatory masks on buses and trains lapse on this date as early as next week, or they could decide to initially extend the legislation and set an alternative date for ending the rule.

Regardless of their decision, FFP2 masks will continue to be mandatory on long-distance public transport until at least April next year, when the nationwide Infection Protection Act is due to expire.

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

Speaking to Süddeutsche Zeitung on Monday after the meeting of the Council of Ministers, Florian Herrmann (CSU), head of the State Chancellery, confirmed that Covid-19 had been discussed in passing.

However, no decisions or discussions were made on how to proceed after the expiry of the regulation, he said.

According to Herrmann, the fact that Covid was no longer the “dominant topic” in the cabinet under “enormous tension” shows “that we are returning to normality” in a gradual transition from pandemic to endemic. 

As of Wednesday, the 7-day incidence of Covid infections per 100,000 people stood at 108 in Bavaria, down from 111 the previous day. However, experts have cast doubt on how meaningful the incidence is in light of the fact that fewer people are taking tests.

Nevertheless, the 133 hospital beds occupied by Covid patients in the Free State falls well below the 600 threshold for a ‘red alert’. With Omicron causing less severe courses of illness than previous variants, politicians have increasingly focussed on hospitalisation statistics to gauge the severity of the situation.

‘A risk-benefit trade-off’

Bavaria is the second federal state to announce plans to relax its mask-wearing rules in recent weeks.

On November 14th, the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein announced that it would be ending obligatory FFP2 masks on public transport and urged other states to do the same. From January 2023, masks on public transport will only be recommended rather than mandated for passengers on local buses and trains. 

However, the Federal Ministry of Health has urged states not to loosen their rules too quickly.

Given that infection rates are likely to spike again in winter, “there’s no basis for loosening restrictions”, said Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD).

Physicians are also split on whether an end to masks on public transport is appropriate.

READ ALSO: Will Germany get rid of masks on public transport?

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) speaks at the German Hospital Day in Düsseldorf on November 14th. Lauterbach is against the lifting of the mask-wearing rule. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Roberto Pfeil

Christoph Spinner, a virologist at the University Hospital in Munich, told Süddeutsche Zeitung he believed it was time to put the decision on mask-wearing back into the hands of individuals.

“Why not? The incidences are low, the danger of Covid-19 has dropped significantly and mortality has also decreased,” he said. 

But the Bavarian General Practitioners’ Association spoke out against the move, arguing that – unlike a trip to a restaurant or cinema – people often have no choice but to travel on public transport.

“If the obligation to wear a mask in public transport is maintained, this will help to protect against a Covid infection on the way to work by bus or train – especially in view of the discontinuation of the obligation to isolate in the event of a Covid infection,” they explained.

Bavaria is one of four states to have recently ended mandatory isolation for people who test positive for Covid. Baden-Württemberg and Schleswig-Holstein both scrapped their isolation mandate last week, while Hesse removed its obligation on Tuesday. 

READ ALSO: Four German states call for end to mandatory Covid isolation

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