Why it’s still not possible to hug all your friends and family in Germany

Lots of people are wondering when it will be possible to hug their grandchildren, other family members or friends in Germany. But at the moment the government is still not allowing it. Here's why.

Why it's still not possible to hug all your friends and family in Germany
File photo of a couple with their grandchild. Photo: CosmosDirekt/CosmosDirekt/obs/DPA

Sometimes you'd be forgiven for thinking the pandemic in Germany had come to an end.

With shops reopening, children enjoying play parks and people eating out at restaurants, it appears as if thing have returned to pre-coronavirus times.

But even though some measures that the government put in place to stem the spread of coronavirus have been eased, so-called contact restrictions (Kontaktbeschränkungen) remain in force.

The government says that it's important to follow these rules to stop the number of new infections rising like they did at the height of the epidemic.

In a document published as part of the government's Zuzammen gegen Corona (Together against Corona) campaign, authorities say that because the majority of people in Germany have followed the coronavirus measures so far “it has been possible to slow down the spread of Covid-19”.

But they warn that the spread will “accelerate rapidly, endangering the success achieved” if people forget about the rules at this point.

EXPLAINED: What to know about Germany's new social distancing rules

So what are the rules?

On May 26th, the federal and state governments decided to maintain compulsory contact restrictions until June 29th.

It means that residents in Germany are advised to keep the number of people they meet with to a minimum. And they should keep a distance of at least 1.5 metres to others (excluding people from their own household).

Now states in Germany can allow up to 10 people or the members of two households to meet in public. States can decide, however, whether they want to adopt that rule or set their own ones. In Berlin, for example, only up to five people are allowed to meet.

Check with state authorities for the most up-to-date restrictions list.

In addition, a face mask (over the mouth and nose) must be worn in certain public areas including on public transport and in shops.

So the government is still urging people to keep their distance, wash their hands and wear masks.

Meetings with family and friends

The virus spread rapidly in Germany and across Europe in March, especially on occasions when lots of people came close together, for example at Après-ski bars, beer festivals or carnival celebrations.

Due to this factor, large public events are prohibited in Germany. For the time being, the ban will remain in force until August 31st and Bundesliga games are being held without spectators.

Experts agree that the virus also spreads easily at private parties, too, whether it's a barbecue or a game night.

“Unfortunately, the time for parties has not yet come,” says the government.

When meeting other people (within the rules laid out in the contact restrictions), residents are urged to avoid close contact at these meetings and to keep their distance as much as possible.

Grandma and grandpa should still not look after grandchildren

With daycare centres and schools still far away from normal operation, many parents may want to turn to the grandparents for help.

And even those who do not have to look after children themselves are wondering whether it is possible to visit parents, grandparents or older people.

READ ALSO: Why Germany has coronavirus infections under control despite relaxing restrictions

However, older people and those with previous illnesses belong to high risk groups which mean they have a higher probability of developing a severe illness if they contract Covid-19.

That means visits to grandparents are still not recommended, although it is possible for a grandparent in Germany to see grandchildren – if they avoid contact and maintain distance. The government also advises sticking to video calls.

Meanwhile, parents should look for other forms of childcare rather than turning to grandparents.

What about visits to old people's homes?

People in nursing homes and other similar facilities were not allowed any visitors for weeks during the shutdown.

But the rules have now changed in all institutions where there are no active Covid-19 cases.

People who live in hospitals, nursing homes, homes for the elderly or disabled are now allowed to have one contact person who can return regularly. However, authorities have urged people to take caution when visiting because you can be a carrier of the virus without symptoms.

If there are cases of coronavirus in the facilities visitors are generally not allowed to see family members.

When will things change?

We will know more after June 29th when the current contact restriction rules expire. But from what politicians and experts have been saying, it looks like social distancing and contact restrictions in some form will remain in place in Germany until a vaccine or treatment is found.

READ ALSO: 'Social distancing will be needed in Germany for a long time'

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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.