‘We’re still in the middle of a pandemic’: German politicians call for common sense after Berlin party boat demo

German politicians have urged people to refrain from partying after 3,000 revellers gathered for a demo in aid of Berlin club culture.

'We're still in the middle of a pandemic': German politicians call for common sense after Berlin party boat demo
The boat demo/party on Sunday. Photo: AFP

Around 1,500 people climbed into rubber dinghies and floated along the Landwehrcanal on Sunday May 31st, demanding more support and financial help to struggling clubs and festivals during the coronavirus crisis.

However, the event seemed to turn into a party with little social distancing involved. A total of 3,000 people attended the event on boats and on the banks of the canal, according to estimates.

The event was organised by club collective Rebellion der Träumer to support Berlin's hard-hit nightclubs, which have been unable to open their doors since the Covid-19 health crisis began.

IN PICTURES: Berlin boat demo turns into rave with little social distancing

However, the event has been slammed across the board, with concerns it could lead to coronavirus outbreaks.

On Wednesday, Health Minister Jens Spahn tweeted: “The pictures worry me, because when partying, the virus spreads particularly easily.

“Yes, the numbers are currently at a low level. Nevertheless, we are still in the middle of the pandemic. Let's secure what we've achieved and continue to take care of each other in our daily lives.”

Frank Ulrich Montgomery, chairman of the World Medical Association, said the demo had the potential to be a “superspreader” event.

He blamed politicians, saying that there is unclear communication on coronavirus restrictions in Germany due to every state having different rules.

“With the chaos of regionally different regulations, no one should be surprised if some people get the impression that now there is no need to follow any rules at all,” Montgomery told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung. 

The demo on Sunday. Photo: DPA

He called for a return to nationwide rules in the fight against the pandemic.

“The boat party has the potential to become the next superspreader event,” said Montgomery. “When a large number of people come together, in the most joyful mood and possibly with alcohol, with songs and the like, it's a safe bet for the virus. We can only hope that it went well and the wind blew the particles away.”

READ ALSO: 'We have to have fun somehow': Partying Germans snub calls to stay home in coronavirus crisis

On Tuesday Berlin health senator Dilek Kalayci expressed her horror at the event. “I stick to my guns, it's not the time for parties,” Kalayci tweeted. Clubs have been hotspots in the spread of coronavirus. She described their closure as “right and important”.

Kalayci continued: “I understand the difficult economic situation of the clubs. There is financial aid for this. But what happened on the Landwehrkanal at the weekend is grossly negligent in pandemic times.

“I appeal to the common sense of club and party fans: I said it at the beginning of the pandemic and I say it today, it is not the time for parties! The virus is still there and is a danger to the health of everyone!”

In a video that Kalayci posted on Tuesday afternoon, the health senator added that she was “appalled” by the images that are likely to make headlines around the world.

Apology over protest

In a statement on Facebook, Rebellion der Träumer said it was calling for a serious debate on how to support those suffering from the coronavirus crisis, highlighting that more support for clubs and festivals, as well as self-employed artists was needed.

READ ALSO: 'United we stream': How Berlin's clubs are coming together to survive the corona crisis

“As cultural workers our professional existence and our venues are acutely threatened – many artists, cultural institutions and festivals are falling through all the nets,” it said in the post.

The group, which said the demonstration was organised with an alliance of different initiatives and clubs, said it had chosen to host the event on water “in order to minimize the risk of infection as much as possible”.

Rebellion der Träumer said it was overwhelmed by the support but apologised for the scale of the event and that the protest ended outside a hospital.

In a Facebook post, the group said “we did our best in various ways to make the demo as safe as possible”, adding that it had urged people to only go on rubber dinghies with housemates or partners, and to stick to safety measures.

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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.