‘Glimpse of hope’: The verdict in Germany on the easing of coronavirus restrictions

Germany has been relaxing restrictions put in place to stem the spread of coronavirus – from opening cafes to allowing sports again. So what do residents who live here think about it? We asked them.

For the first time in around two months, people in Germany are dining in restaurants again and are able to get their hair cut – with special social distancing measures.

That’s because the country has been gradually lifting its lockdown which was put in place in March in order to try and slow the spread of coronavirus and stop the health system from becoming overloaded. 

Some people are relieved to see businesses, like shops and gyms begin to open up again. However, others fear a spike in infections and are concerned that people are not really following social distancing rules. 

Here's what The Local readers had to say.

'Glimpse of hope'

Many people are encouraged to see public life opening up again but stressed that it should be done gradually.

Gordon Sinclair, 43, who lives in Oberallgäu, told The Local: “The easing of restrictions is welcome and gives us a glimpse of hope. My main hope is that they are not eased too quickly as this will see a resurgence of the virus.”

Easing the lockdown is a “good decision”, said Sathiamoorthi Ku, 45, in Schwäbisch Hall. 

“Instead of hiding, we have to start to live with precaution,” Ku said, adding that face masks, social distancing and avoiding non-essential travel was key to life with coronavirus. 

READ ALSO: 'People are breaking the rules': What it's like living in Germany during the coronavirus lockdown

Claire Janocha, 49, in Bavaria, added: “I think it's the right thing to do because Germany has handled the crisis well and the numbers show that we have some room to start easing the restrictions.

“But we have to be careful and patient, and we might not get as much as we want as quickly as we want.”

Jolyon Jamieson, 68, in Baden-Württemberg said he hoped it wasn’t too soon but as long as the process of reopening public life was done slowly it was okay. 

‘It’s like there never was a pandemic’

Lots of readers told us they were concerned the restrictions, which included only two people not from the same household being allowed to meet in public, had been lifted too soon. They fear that the number of virus infections will increase again and push up the ‘R’ number or reproduction number. 

Experts say this number, which shows how many people a person with coronavirus goes on to infect, should stay under 1. As of Monday May 18th it was just under 1. 

READ ALSO: How worried should we be when Germany reports a higher coronavirus infection rate?

Amr Aswad, 32, in Berlin said: “The response (from the German government) has been admirable, though I think restrictions are being eased too soon. 

“As a parent I am happy the playgrounds are open, but as a virologist I am concerned about a second wave. Cue internal struggle.”

A 43-year-old in Hanover and originally from the US said: “I would have preferred to have the restrictions in place longer, to have the number of infections falling to a greater degree, similar to the reports coming out from New Zealand.

“I think things are opening up too fast and should be done in a more step-wise, methodical manner.”

Another reader said a similar thing and fears if things open up too quickly it will cause “a huge second wave”.

Barri, 38, in Hamburg added: “I think it’s too soon for many things such as gyms, restaurants and schools to be open. It’s like there was never a pandemic here. Parks and open spaces are filled with people.”

Other readers painted a similar picture and feared the worst. 

Wong, 38, who lives near Nuremberg, said: “I think the restrictions are lifted too soon, and people are not following the social distancing rules anymore, even though they are still in place. I am convinced that very soon there will be a second wave of infection.”

READ ALSO: How Germany's international residents are affected by the coronavirus pandemic

“I fear they might be (easing restrictions) too early,” added Chris Pyak, 46, in Düsseldorf.

Some people said they could understand both sides but would be sticking to strict rules themselves.

Madeleine Oliver, 64, in Baden-Württemberg said: “I felt they had come a bit early, but can understand the economy needs the upward swing. On the other hand I would not have opened schools so soon. I will be following the strict guidelines, personally.”

A museum in Stralsund urging 1.5m distance. Photo: DPA

Is Germany managing the situation well?

The German government has been praised throughout the world for its reaction to the pandemic, testing strategy and world-class healthcare system which has all helped to contribute to a lower death rate compared to many other countries. 

Many residents who responded to our questions said it was clear German authorities were doing a good job. 

Martin Dawkins, 60, in Cologne, said: “Very well thought through approach. Pragmatic and well-policed generally.”

Another reader, Salman Miraj, 27, added: “It was not 100 percent, but eight out of 10.”

Rick Harrison, 52, in Baden-Württemberg, said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the lockdown being lifted.

When it comes to government communication, Harrison gave it a glowing report: “Clear. Honest. Simple, not vague. Upfront and credible. Everyone seems to be on the same page as a government and all parties, on this, agreeing. A united front.”

However, some people raised concerns about unclear messages – not least because of Germany’s federal system which means there are often different rules at a state or district level. 

Jeff Glasson, 57 in Berlin said sometimes it’s “confusing” to figure out what a recommendation from the federal government is and what is being enforced in Berlin. 

READ ALSO: Coronavirus in Germany: Which measures are changing this week?

Another reader told us: “For the most part, I believe things have been communicated well, but in Lower Saxony, we were told originally that day care would be closed until August, and then suddenly, the plan changed and they opened this week, with some of the providers finding out only from the official Lower Saxony press release.”

Greet Tummers, 35, in Freiburg im Breisgau, is also feeling frustrated. He said: “The communication here is quite bad, we had to look on foreign sites to get all the information. The German government is treating us as children, just with tiny warnings, like a parent would do to his child.”

Are people really sticking to social distancing?

Our readers painted a mixed picture regarding how well people are doing social distancing in Germany. The government says there must be 1.5 metre distance between others in public, and only people from two separate households are allowed to meet.

Katherine Bernando, 38, in Berlin, praised the government but said: “People seem to be taking it far less seriously. The streets are very busy, but not back to 100.”

A 38-year-old in Frankfurt said: “People aren’t following the rules. We live opposite a park and it’s been full of people for the last two months. Frankfurt isn’t managing things well. There’s an attitude of, 'why is everyone overreacting, it’s no big deal' and people just carrying on as normal.”

In Cologne, where some bars have already opened, Dawkins said: “Generally most people are following the rules but people in some bars are not (drink affected?).

“Interestingly it seems to be elderly (50+) and youths disregarding the rules. But mostly the population is conforming well.”

Thanks to everyone who shared their experience with us. Although we weren't able to include all the submissions, we read each of them and we are truly sympathetic to the challenges Germany's international residents are facing right now.
If there's anything you'd like to ask or tell us about our coronavirus coverage or how the outbreak has affected you, please feel free to get in touch.

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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.