Coronavirus: Five things to look out for in Germany this autumn

Coronavirus: Five things to look out for in Germany this autumn
Social distancing at a park in Düsseldorf in July. But are people in Germany remaining disciplined? Photo: DPA
Life has been returning to the 'new normal' in Germany over the summer. But now with rising numbers and autumn ahead, the government faces a big dilemma: how do you stop a second coronavirus wave?

A lot can happen in 10 weeks, especially during a worldwide pandemic. That's how long it's been since Chancellor Angela Merkel and German state leaders discussed coronavirus rules and the loosening of measures.

After that meeting on June 17th, the consensus was that Germany had successfully made it through the first part of the pandemic.

But over summer, new problems have emerged such as a spike in infections understood to be caused in part by travel and people ignoring distancing measures.

That means there could be some fresh rules discussed on Monday between health ministers, and on Thursday when Merkel plans to meet state premiers.

We looked at five major issues when it comes to the current Covid-19 situation in Germany and preventing a second wave.

READ ALSO: What can we expect from Germany's plans to tigthen coronavirus measures at social gatherings?

1. Testing and travel

Germany started providing free tests for all returning travellers from risk areas earlier in August, as well as increasing tests at airports and border crossing points for everyone coming back into the country.

It means the number of tests have “increased significantly compared to previous weeks,” the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) said. But this has created new difficulties.

A man being tested in Cologne on August 21st. Photo: DPA

Politicians in Germany went on their summer break without a stringent testing strategy, well aware that the longing for a vacation and visits home after months of restrictions creates new risks, wrote the German newspaper, Tagesspiegel.

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In North Rhine-Westphalia, for example, more than 50 percent of the positive virus cases for returning travellers recently were attributable to people coming back from Kosovo and Turkey, often after family visits.

The main problem is that test capacity limits are being reached in some places, especially in Berlin. In Bavaria there have been serious breakdowns in implementation.

Leading virologist Christian Drosten recommends the Berlin Senate stop free coronavirus tests at airports because of the test volume. Berlin labs can reportedly no longer deal with the planned testing of nursing staff in old people's homes.

And on Monday Health Minister Jens Spahn proposed getting rid of mandatory tests, signalling a change of course.

How many tests can Germany manage? Well, Spahn says Germany has a test capacity of about one million per week. While 570,746 people were tested in a week a month ago, the figure has now risen to 875,524. To date there have already been around ten million tests in Germany.

“The problem of scarce corona tests will become enormous in the next week,” said the Social Democrat health expert Karl Lauterbach, spelling out the danger ahead.

“In autumn we will have to clearly prioritize who gets a test,” he said.

Health experts including Drosten and Lauterbach have been calling for authorities to focus on clusters of infections, following the example of Japan, instead of testing everywhere.

READ ALSO: 'Target clusters and superspreaders': Here's how Germany could prevent a second coronavirus wave

Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania's state premier Manuela Schwesig says a more focused approach is needed.

“We finally need a national testing strategy,” she said. “The federal government must assume more responsibility.”

There are also calls for rapid and cheaper tests to be introduced widely in Germany such as those being used in the UK.

2. Large events

Large events are banned in Germany until at least the end of October – that was decided by Merkel and the state leaders at their last meeting on June 17th.

But due to the initial drop in infection figures at the start of summer, many federal states decided to make exceptions, and there are big differences among them.

From September onward, up to 5,000 people will be allowed to gather in Berlin at open-air concerts. In Brandenburg, as in many other federal states, there will be an upper limit of 1,000, in Lower Saxony 500 and in Rhineland-Palatinate 350.

There are lots of experiments going on too, such as the “Restart19” project where scientists are analysing the risk of infection at concerts.

3. Smaller events and parties

There are also some concerns about the role of smaller events which more people are allowed to attend again in parts of Germany.

In Thuringia, publicly funded theatres and orchestras are allowed to perform again indoors.

In Bavaria, according to the state government, the following rule applies to events with “assigned, designated seats”: a total of 400 people are allowed at outdoor events and 200 inside. Otherwise there is an upper limit of 200 outside and 100 inside.

Recently, family parties and other social events have become cluster hotspots. There's also been large spontaneous raves without distance and face masks such as in the Berlin, which have caused headaches for authorities.

There were concerns over too many people gathering together at a boat demo in Berlin at the end of May. Photo: DPA

Germany's carnival season, which starts on November 11th, is also a big talking point. Can it go ahead in times of corona?

The government could look at introducing nationwide limits on social gatherings.

4. Masks and ventilation

Christian Democrat (CDU) party leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer says she can envisage an increased obligation to wear face masks in Germany, such as in workplaces.

Currently they have to be worn while shopping and on public transport, as well in some schools.

Bavarian state premier Markus Söder says there should be a uniform line throughout Germany on the obligation to wear masks and on fines for those who flout rules.

The government will also discuss a federal-state program to use mobile filter systems in autumn and winter to reduce possible aerosol concentrations in Kitas, schools, community centres, businesses and restaurants.

They hope this will reduce the coronavirus spread when people have to spend more time indoors. But there are no guarantees it will be effective.

READ ALSO: Is Germany heading for a second lockdown amid rise in coronavirus cases?

5. Communication and coordination

After initial restraint, Chancellor Merkel made crisis management her top priority in March. For the first time ever she addressed the nation on TV, communicating how serious the situation was.

When Merkel told Germans to stick to lockdown rules, they obeyed.

This urgent and extreme action from Merkel and other high profile politicians as well as closely coordinated federal/state planning up until June, are regarded as success factors for the fact that so many people in Germany behaved in a disciplined way.


Angela Merkel during her TV address on March 18th. Photo: DPA

The number of cases, which is also the result of the increase in the number of tests, is still manageable, but the dynamics are a cause for concern as autumn approaches.

Now people are wondering if a plan with Merkel at the forefront needs to be put in place to get the population on board again.

“The federal and state governments must now finally pull together again and coordinate measures with each other,” said Katrin Göring-Eckardt, head of the Green parliamentary group.


This is the only way to secure the trust of the citizens and the support for the measures, said Göring-Eckardt.

There are also calls for an independent 'Pandemic Council', which would provide scientific support for the coronavirus measures.

Göring-Eckardt said there had been “no sensible cooperation since spring, when individual state premiers tried to outbid each other”.

“This has weakened the efforts to contain the virus and the preparation for a possible second wave,” she said.


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