‘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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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.