Hamburg sex workers celebrate easing of coronavirus restrictions

Sex workers are now allowed to return to work in the northern states of Hamburg, Bremen and Schleswig-Holstein after a further easing of coronavirus restrictions.

Hamburg sex workers celebrate easing of coronavirus restrictions
Sex workers have been unable to work for six months due to the pandemic. Photo: DPA

Brothel owners and sex workers gathered in the heart of Hamburg’s Reeperbahn (red-light district) on Tuesday to celebrate the lifting of a months-long ban on prostitution and sex work due to the coronavirus pandemic.

District Chief Falko Droßmann of the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) marked the end of the ban on the district’s famous Herbertstraße, revealing a painting by the Dutch Pop art artist Maaike Dirkx.

The work is dedicated to Sexy Aufstand Reeperbahn (Sexy Resistance Red-light district), a group that has spent months campaigning for the reopening of brothels and an easing of restrictions for sex workers. 






A post shared by Sexy Aufstand Reeperbahn (@sexy_aufstand_reeperbahn) on Aug 12, 2020 at 9:13am PDT

A welcome decision

The prostitution industry has been one of the hardest hit by the corona crisis, with many workers struggling to survive financially. Famous brothels, such as Pascha in Cologne, have filed for bankruptcy after months of enforced closure. 

“I'm very pleased that we’ve been able to allow sex work to resume again,” said Droßmann, but he also warned that “we will continue to monitor the situation closely”.

READ ALSO: Brothels set to reopen in northern Germany with strict rules

Everyone involved will have to adhere to strict hygiene requirements. Sexy Aufstand Reeperbahn, which represents prostitutes and brothel owners, had already proposed a plan for safe re-opening in July.

Droßmann added that the pandemic has brought women in the industry closer than he has seen in the last 20 years. 

He hopes this new sense of community will remain after the pandemic: “Herbertstraße and the sex workers that work there should no longer be confined to the sidelines.”

As of Tuesday, the so-called “oldest profession in the world” is now allowed resume in Hamburg and Germany’s northernmost state of Schleswig-Holstein – albeit under strict conditions and only in registered prostitution facilities.

This follows a wave of legal victories for sex workers across the country, who took to the courts to overturn the ban imposed on prostitution.

The Higher Administrative courts in North Rhine-Westphalia, Lower Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt have allowed brothels to resume business, months after the ban was introduced in all German states on March 16th.

Brothels adjust to 'new normal'

“Prostitution in vehicles and prostitution events are still prohibited”, added the Hamburg social authority, which is also responsible for health. 

To minimise the risk of infection, each brothel must enforce strict hygiene regulations. 

READ ALSO: Five things to know about prostitution in Germany 

Other requirements include wearing a face covering, making appointments in advance, recording customers’ contact details, ensuring rooms are sufficiently ventilated and enforcing an alcohol ban. Prostitutes are also only allowed to work on a one to one basis.

The ban on sex work was partially lifted in Berlin in August. Since September 1st, physical contact has also been permitted. Brothels in many other states remain closed, however.

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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.