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HEALTH

Merkel says coronavirus rules evoked memories of East Germany

Chancellor Angela Merkel said Friday that the drastic limits placed on people's freedoms to curb the coronavirus earlier this year had weighed heavily on her, bringing back memories of life in surveillance-riddled East Germany.

Merkel says coronavirus rules evoked memories of East Germany
Merkel pictured by a Trabi, the signature car of the GDR (East Germany). Photo: DPA

Speaking on the eve of the 30th anniversary of German reunification, Merkel told the RND newspaper group she was acutely aware of the sacrifices she was asking of Germans when the country went into lockdown in March.

“That I had to tell people they could only be out in the street in a single household or just two persons at a time, that no events could take place, that children could not visit their parents in care homes — these were serious restrictions.”

READ ALSO: 'Life as we know it will return': Merkel makes emotional appeal for more caution in coronavirus crisis

A pastor's daughter who grew up behind the Iron Curtain in the communist German Democratic Republic (GDR), Merkel, 66, said she reflected a lot on her childhood and youth when making those tough calls in the early days of the pandemic.

Merkel pictured as a teenager in the town of Himmelpfort, in former East Germany. Photo: DPA

“My background has shaped me,” she said, recalling “the longing for freedom during life in the GDR”.

But the veteran leader, who as a young woman rejected an offer to inform for the Stasi secret police, said her experiences in former East Germany also prepared her for difficult times.

“We learned to improvise and we always managed well despite many shortages. These are skills that are useful today too.”

Three decades on, Germany is planning muted celebrations to remember the historic unification of the communist East with the capitalist West, as the nation battles an uptick in coronavirus infections.

The Berlin Wall fell in a peaceful revolution on November 9, 1989, paving the way for the formal reunification of Germany on October 3rd, 1990.

READ ALSO: How October 3rd became German Unity Day

“Until the fall of the Wall, I never thought that German reunification would happen in my lifetime,” said Merkel, who plans to step down next year.

“When it did become reality, it was a wonderful experience that taught me that change can be good, and change for the better is possible.”

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COVID-19

Munich sees sharp rise in Covid cases after Oktoberfest

Since the start of Germany’s Oktoberfest, the incidence of Covid infections in Munich has risen sharply. Though a connection with the festival can’t yet be proven, it seems likely.

Munich sees sharp rise in Covid cases after Oktoberfest

Two weeks after the start of Oktoberfest, the Covid numbers in Munich have more than tripled.

On Sunday, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported an incidence of 768.7 for the city of Munich, though updated figures for the end of the festival are not expected until later in the week. Usually, on weekends and public holidays, there is a delay in reports.

In the entire state of Bavaria, the incidence value on Sunday was 692.5.

According to Munich’s public health officer, Beatrix Zurek, bed occupancy in Munich hospitals has also increased. Two weeks ago, 200 beds in Munich were occupied by Covid patients, whereas there are now around 350.

Though a relationship between the sharp rise in infections with Oktoberfest, which ended on Monday, can’t be proven at the moment, it seems very likely, according to experts. A significant increase in Covid incidences has also been shown at other public festivals – about one and a half weeks after the start. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s famed Oktoberfest opens after two-year pandemic hiatus

After a two-year break due to the pandemic, around 5.7 million visitors came to this year’s Wiesn according to the festival management – around 600,000 fewer than at the last Oktoberfest before the pandemic in 2019, when there were 6.3 million.

Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) took to Twitter to comment on the rise in incidence in Munich during the Oktoberfest. “This would not have been necessary if self-tests had been taken before admission,” he said.

“Compared to the price of a measure of beer, €2-3 (for tests) wouldn’t have mattered,” he said.

Even before the start of the Wiesn, he had spoken out in favour of people taking voluntary self-tests. Lauterbach stressed that now is the time for special measures against Covid.

“The development shows what will happen if the states wait too long with the mask obligation in indoor areas,” he added.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Germany’s new Covid-19 rules from October

In neighbouring counties, where many Oktoberfest visitors came from, the number of Covid cases has also risen noticeably.  Beatrix Zurek said that it is unclear, however, how much of a role Oktoberfest played in these figures, as people are currently much more active socially overall, with concerts and other events also taking place throughout the state.

Christoph Spinner, an infections specialist at Munich’s Klinikum, has urged people not to be alarmed by the rising numbers.

“We had expected rising incidences here. We knew that there could be a doubling, tripling, even quadrupling,” he said.

He said that this is no cause for concern, as many people have been vaccinated or have also recovered from previous Covid infections, so any new infections are therefore usually mild.

The virologist advises people over 60 or with pre-existing conditions to get a second booster vaccination, but otherwise said people shouldn’t be alarmed by the rising incidences.

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