Germany concerned coronavirus protests may lead to radicalisation

Protests against the government’s coronavirus restrictions took place in cities and towns all across Germany over the weekend.

Germany concerned coronavirus protests may lead to radicalisation
A sign reads 'stop the health fascists' at a protest in Marienplatz in Munich. Photo: DPA

Some are worried about the destabilising effect the demonstrations will have on the country’s efforts to curtail the coronavirus, while others are concerned that the protests may fuel radicalisation. 

Over the weekend, protests took place in Berlin, Frankfurt, Dortmund and several other German cities. An estimated 10,000 people attended a rally in Stuttgart, while 3,000 attended a demonstration in Munich.

Despite further relaxing lockdown restrictions on Wednesday, May 6th, protesters have called for the measures to be further relaxed, arguing that their freedoms are being curtailed. 

READ ALSO: A taste of normality as first restaurants reopen in Germany

Although the protests clearly exceeded the limit of people allowed to attend demonstrations – between 50 and 80 depending on the state – and many were not respecting social distancing and hygiene requirements, police told DPA.

They allowed them to continue as they were largely peaceful and said that breaking them up “would not be proportionate” to their actions. 

The protests have taken part in several cities throughout the entire period of the lockdown, however numbers have begun to swell in recent weeks. In Thuringia, state premier Thomas Kemmerich of the Free Democrats (FDP) attended a rally and did not wear a mask. 

‘Extremists and fake news’

Authorities are concerned about right-wing extremists and conspiracy theorists mingling with the protesters in some areas. On Saturday, a group of right-wing extremists attacked journalists at a protest in Dortmund. 

Social Democratic (SPD) leader Saskia Esken said on Monday that the radicalisation of the protests could be a threat to democracy. 

“Looking away or being silent doesn’t help. We have to stand up and prove our commitment to democracy”. 

CDU General Secretary Paul Ziemiak agreed, saying “we must not allow extremists to use the Coronavirus crisis as a platform for their anti-democratic propaganda.”

“(While we take citizens’ concerns seriously) we are taking action against those who are now fuelling citizens concerns with conspiracy theories and spreading fake news.”

Is coronavirus again on the rise? 

The concerns have been magnified by news that the infection rate in Germany may again be increasing. 

READ: Rise in coronavirus infections spurs concern across Germany

The infection reproductions rate – the key metric used by scientists – rose above 1 on Saturday, increasing from 0.65 at the time the lockdown restrictions were announced on Wednesday. 

An infections rate of more than 1 indicates that each person with the virus infects at least one other person, thereby curtailing efforts to stop the spread. 

The Robert Koch Institute, which produces the figure, said that it could have come about due to a lag in data accumulation and does not necessarily mean that it is a consequence of the lockdown relaxations. 


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Pandemic in Germany unlikely to end this year, says top virologist

High profile German virologist Christian Drosten believes Germany will see a severe spike in Covid infections after summer, and that the pandemic will not become endemic this year.

Pandemic in Germany unlikely to end this year, says top virologist

Drosten previously said that Germany would probably be able to declare the end of the pandemic this year.

But in an interview with Spiegel, Drosten said he had reevaluated his opinion. 

“When the Alpha variant came, it was very surprising for me. When Delta appeared I was sceptical at first, then with Omicron we had to reorient ourselves again. And since January there have already been new Omicron subtypes.

“So I would actually like to correct myself: I no longer believe that by the end of the year we will have the impression that the pandemic is over.”

READ ALSO: End is in sight for pandemic in Germany, says virologist 

Drosten also said that Germany will not see a largely Covid-free summer, which has been the case in previous years, and a further increase in infections in autumn. 

“We are actually already seeing an exponential increase in case numbers again,” Drosten said.

“The BA.5 variant (of Omicron) is simply very transmissible, and people are losing their transmission protection from the last vaccination at the same time.”

In other countries, he said, when the number of cases become high, hospitalisation and death rates also rise again. “Unfortunately, that will also be the case here,” said Drosten, but added: “Overall, however, far fewer people will become seriously ill and die than in 2021.”

Drosten said he expected many more infections from September.

“I hope that the school holidays will dampen the increase in cases somewhat. But from September, I fear we will have very high case numbers,” the head of the virology department at Berlin’s Charité hospital told Spiegel.

READ ALSO: German Health Minister lays out autumn Covid plan

Virologist Christian Drosten at a Covid press conference in 2021.

Virologist Christian Drosten at a Covid press conference in 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

If the government does not take any action, he predicted there would be a lot of sick leave across all industries. “That will become a real problem,” he said.

Drosten said he did not expect overcrowded intensive care units in Germany.

But the new BA.5 sub-variant, which is becoming dominant in Germany, may affect people more strongly. 

“The wheel is turning more towards disease again,” said Drosten. It is not true that a virus automatically becomes more and more harmless in the course of evolution. “That makes me even more worried about the autumn,” he said.

Drosten recommends wearing masks indoors during the colder months, saying it is “the least painful” measure.

If, in addition, “up to 40 million people could be immunised or given a booster vaccination” before winter, for example by urgently calling for company vaccinations, that would “really make a difference”, Drosten said.

In the long term, he said it’s inevitable that people will become infected with coronavirus.

He said the population immunity due to vaccinations and infections will at some point be so strong that the virus will become less important. “Then we will be in an endemic state,” said Drosten. In the worst case, however, this could take “several more winters”.

However, Drosten warned against people trying to deliberately infect themselves with Covid, saying getting the infection in summer doesn’t mean people will be protected in winter. 

Drosten himself said he has not yet contracted Covid-19.

“So far, I guess I’ve just been lucky,” he said. “I rarely put myself in risky situations, but I’m not overly cautious either.”

‘Pandemic depends on behaviour’

According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI)’s latest weekly report, more outbreaks are occurring in care homes, and the number of patients in intensive care units is slightly rising as infections go up. 

The institute said there had been a 23 percent increase in the 7-day incidence compared to the previous week. On Friday the 7-day incidence stood at 618.2 infections per 100,000 people. There were 108,190 infections within the latest 24 hour period and 90 deaths. 

“The further course of the pandemic depends not only on the occurrence of new virus variants and the uptake of vaccinations on offer, it also depends to a large extent on the behaviour of the population,” said the RKI.

According to the DIVI intensive care register, the number of Covid-19 patients in ICUs had increased to 810 on Thursday this week, from about 600 at the beginning of the month.

However, that number is still low compared to previous Covid peaks when thousands of people were in intensive care in Germany.