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ANGELA MERKEL

‘First phase of coronavirus pandemic in Germany behind us,’ says Merkel

Germany has emerged from the grip of the coronavirus pandemic, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Wednesday, as she announced further loosening of the lockdown and social distancing.

'First phase of coronavirus pandemic in Germany behind us,' says Merkel
Angela Merkel on Wednesday. Photo: DPA

Following a meeting with Germany's 16 state leaders, Merkel said the “very first phase of the pandemic is behind us”.

Germany is now at a point “where we can say that we have reached the goal of slowing down the spread of the virus,” Merkel said. But she added that there is still a “long struggle” ahead.

There have been a total of around 167,000 coronavirus infections in Germany so far (as of Wednesday May 6th), with around 6,990 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University figures. A total of 135,200 people are reported to have recovered.

The increase in new infections has slowed down, according to the Robert Koch Institute for disease control.

“By and large, we have succeeded in tracing the infection chains,” said Merkel during the press conference, adding that figures gave a positive outlook.

READ ALSO: Germany set to open all shops and schools in May

Social distancing measures eased

Merkel said there had been a “very long” discussion about how to ease lockdown and social distancing measures in Germany.

The government and states have decided to extend social distancing restrictions, which include keeping a minimum distance of 1.5 metres from other people in public, until June 5th.

However, now people from two separate households can meet, such as two families, two couples, or the members of two shared flats – instead of the previous requirement of just two people.

But, Merkel emphasised once again that there is still “a very clear restriction on contact” and urged people in Germany to follow the rules.

So when can public life reopen?

In theory Germany's reopening is immediate, but In practice the states will make separate announcements, with some already revealing plans.

As detailed in the draft drawn up before the meeting, Merkel and state premiers have agreed that all shops, regardless of size, will be allowed to reopen.

Bundesliga football matches have been given the green light to play without spectators in so-called “ghost games”, from mid-May, though no official date has been set.

READ ALSO: What's Germany's plan for post-lockdown life with coronavirus?

Meanwhile, other outdoor sports will be allowed with restrictions in place.

Universities will stay closed, but all other students are allowed to return to school in stages until the summer holidays.

Large public events remain banned until the end of August.

Merkel said a plan for how to reopen other part of the cultural sector such as theatres, concert halls and cinemas was being drawn up.

States to decide

The chancellor said states will put their own timetables into place for when restaurants and cafes can open their doors.

However, she said an “emergency mechanism” had to be in place to avoid a new coronavirus wave.

It means that lockdown measures will have to be reimposed if the number of coronavirus infections begins to mount again.

If more than 50 new infections per 100,000 residents are detected within seven days, the affected city or district must impose “a corresponding lockdown plan”.

Merkel has repeatedly warned that opening up public life after lockdown shouldn't be done too quickly.

On Wednesday she said a “balanced agreement” had been struck, but concluded her speech by adding that life with coronavirus in Germany would be a “huge challenge”.

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CULTURE

‘People liked the silence’: How Berlin’s club scene is struggling after lockdowns

Berlin's clubs are suffering from staff shortages, a lack of guests... and neighbours who've grown used to the silence, representatives for the scene say.

'People liked the silence': How Berlin's club scene is struggling after lockdowns

Some operators from Berlin’s club scene are bracing themselves for a difficult autumn. For months now, people have been allowed to dance again and life has returned to normal in the dark corners of Berlin’s famous nightlife scene.

But the clubs have far from recovered from the pandemic. They face staff shortages, rising prices and the prospect of a return to Covid restrictions in the autumn.

“We go into the autumn with huge fear, because the omens are totally unfavorable,” said association head Pamela Schobeß.

Spring and summer went anything but smoothly, she said. “There has been an oversupply of events. People aren’t going out as much, and some are still afraid to move around indoors.”

Money is also an issue. “A lot of people are afraid of rising energy prices.”

The industry lost workers during the pandemic and it’s hard to convince them to come back with the outlook for the autumn looking so gloomy, Schobeß says.

Her colleague Robin Schellenberg tells a similar story. People have switched to various other jobs and would even rather work on a supermarket checkout, which may have been considered less sexy in the past. Now, he says, some have learned to love not having to work nights.

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Schellenberg runs the Klunkerkranich, a small club on a parking garage deck in Neukölln. Because a number of things have become more expensive, they have also had to increase their admission prices.

His impression is that people are going out less often and are deciding more spontaneously. In addition, people in the neighborhood are now more sensitive to noise. “Many people found the silence very enticing,” he said.

Some in the industry wonder what will happen next. Will club admission have to become much more expensive? Will that exclude people who can no longer afford it? And what happens if Covid infection numbers rise sharply?

If masks become mandatory indoors in October, Schobeß believes that would be bad for the clubs. “Even if we don’t get shut down by the state, we’ll actually have to close down independently ourselves,” she reckons.

Masks take all the joy out of the experience, she says. People have drinks in their hands and are “jumping around and dancing” and then security guards have to tell them “please put your mask on.”

The federal government is considering whether states should be able to make masks mandatory indoors starting in October. Exceptions should be possible, such as at cultural and sporting events, for people who have been tested, recently vaccinated and recently recovered.

In the event that Covid numbers soar, the states could then be allowed to tighten the rules and eliminate all exemptions.

READ ALSO: German court declares techno to be music

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