Is Germany heading for a second lockdown amid rise in new coronavirus cases?
There were 1,147 new coronavirus cases in Germany within a day, German authorities said on Friday – the highest number since May. What happens next?
Can Germany cope with a rising number of Covid-19 infections? That's the question being considered across the country right now as new cases remained above 1,000 for the second day in a row.
Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn said Germany was still able to cope with the higher numbers.
"At the moment, we are, in any case, still in an order of magnitude that the health care system and the public health service can cope with," the Christian Democrat (CDU) politician told German broadcaster ZDF on Thursday.
"If we stabilise now at a certain level, then we can deal with it," he added. "If the numbers continue to rise, then it is up to all of us to pay attention to each other in everyday life and not to make further measures necessary."
The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for disease control reported on Friday 1,147 new confirmed Covid-19 cases in Germany in 24 hours – the highest number since May. The day before the number of new infections was just over 1,000.
Since the beginning of the crisis, at least 214,214 people in Germany are confirmed to have been infected with the Sars-CoV-2 virus and 9,183 people have died. Around 195,900 people are estimated to have recovered.
Will there be a new lockdown in Germany?
The current infections are spread across the country rather than the hotspots we've seen in the previous two months, such as the Tönnies meat processing plant outbreak earlier in the summer. This development makes it trickier to trace infection chains and stamp out the virus.
When asked when or if lockdown would be necessary again, Spahn underlined the government line to rely mainly on regional measures rather than nationwide action.
He emphasized that there is not "the one number to which everything can be reduced".
"There is the increase factor – in other words, by how much more dynamic will the infection process become? There is the absolute number of infections. The health care system can handle around 1,000 new infections per day," he said.
Lower Saxony's economics minister Bernd Althusmann warned against a second nationwide lockdown.
"We have to expand our pandemic management now, because we cannot afford a second general shutdown. That would be an economic and social disaster," he told the Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung.
But he is optimistic that this can be prevented – "provided the population keeps to the agreed rules". On Thursday, the number of confirmed coronavirus infections in Lower Saxony rose by 73 to 14,736 cases.
A doctor at a coronavirus test station in Dresden, Saxony on August 3rd. Photo: DPA
Tougher penalties for people who break rules
The Social Democrat's (SPD) Secretary General Lars Klingbeil called for stricter measures against people who violate the obligation to wear face masks.
He said "those who don't keep their distance and ignore the obligation to wear masks" affect how and when children can go back to school, as well as people's jobs.
"This is reckless and irresponsible," he said. "We must take more stringent action against it."
Klingbeil said he expects rail operator Deutsche Bahn to enforce compulsory masks on its trains.
Some German states like North Rhine-Westphalia recently announced tougher penalties for people who flout mask rules.
In view of the increased numbers, Klingbeil warned: "If we are not careful, the success of the last few months in the fight against corona is in danger."
Everyone must continue to stick to the mask and distance regulations. "It is in everyone's interest that Germany does not slip into a second wave," he said.
In Germany, masks must be worn on public transport and in shops, while a distance of 1.5 metre is required when possible between people.
'Now it's August and the numbers are going up'
Ute Teichert, chairwoman of the Federal Association of Doctors of the Public Health Service, said on ZDF that so far Germany has managed the crisis well.
"But I believe that we are lulling ourselves into a false sense of security at the moment, that we have simply lost track of time and missed something," she added.
"Everyone thought it (the second wave) would be in autumn – now it's August and the numbers are going up."
In the programme, Katja Kipping, chairperson of the Left Party (Die Linke), was critical of Germany's coronavirus policy. "I think we loosened up too fast," she said.
Bonn virologist Hendrik Streeck, on the other hand, said he was not concerned by the increasing number of cases.
"At the moment we have not seen a significant increase in severe coronavirus cases in intensive care units, although the number of infections has been rising for a good week," he told the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on Friday.
Streeck said: "We must not panic with every increase in infection numbers." He said the virus was here to stay.
"The goal is, and has been, not to overburden the health care system, and that everyone gets the best care possible. That is a realistic goal."