‘We’ll see more local lockdowns in Germany’: Experts warn of tough measures as Covid-19 cases rise

The first local lockdown in the autumn coronavirus resurgence was announced in southern Bavaria this week. Is it likely that more districts will follow?

'We'll see more local lockdowns in Germany': Experts warn of tough measures as Covid-19 cases rise
A lockdown is in place in Berchtesgaden. Photo: DPA

The popular alpine beauty spot of Berchtesgadener Land went into lockdown on Tuesday afternoon for two weeks after cases of coronavirus shot up.

But politicians, health experts and district representatives believe that similar measures may be necessary elsewhere in Germany as Covid-19 numbers continue to go up.

How tough the measures are depends on the incidence of infection and the ability of health authorities to contain it, said federal Health Minister Jens Spahn of the Christian Democrats (CDU) on broadcaster ZDF.

If numbers spiral out of control, “this may indeed lead to appropriate measures in other areas at local and regional level,” said Spahn. 

The Health Minister defended the regional approach, saying the aim was to avoid a nationwide lockdown similar to what happened in March and April 2020.

“This is exactly the approach we are taking, not to take uniform measures throughout Germany, but always in a situation-adapted manner,” said Spahn. “And I am convinced that this will lead to better acceptance.”

READ ALSO: Bavarian district on Austrian border goes into lockdown as coronavirus cases spike


'Local shutdowns are appropriate'

Hesse's state premier Volker Bouffier, also of the CDU, did not rule out local lockdowns either. “The situation is serious, we have an extremely dynamic development,” he told the newspapers of the Funke media group.

Epidemiologist and SPD health expert Karl Lauterbach also told these papers: “We will now see things like in Berchtesgaden more often. We can only react with local shutdowns, so they are appropriate.”

The Association of Towns and Municipalities said these tough measures restricting public life shouldn't be ruled out even for large cities.

“If the numbers go up like they are now in Berchtesgadener Land, then I can – unfortunately – imagine this even in larger cities,” CEO Gerd Landsberg told Bild newspaper. Although the administrative burden of enforcement is “significantly higher” in big city districts such as Berlin-Neukölln, he said it is manageable.

As of Wednesday, the Robert Koch Institute reported 7,595 new cases within 24 hours, slightly below the peak of 7,830 registered on Saturday, but well above the 5,132 new infections reported a week ago on October 14th.

Since the beginning of the pandemic there have been at least 380,762 coronavirus infections in Germany, with 9,875 deaths. The number of deaths rose by 39 within 24 hours, according to RKI.

Stricter measures for Bavaria?

The Bavarian district of Berchtesgaden is by far the nationwide leader in the number of new coronavirus infections per 100,000 inhabitants within seven days, with 236. For the first time since spring, leaving your own home as of Tuesday is only allowed for essential reasons. Schools and day-care centres have been closed.

Bavaria as a whole is now also above the nationally agreed incidence warning value of 50 cases per 100,000 people in seven days. State premier Markus Söder, of the Christian Social Union (CSU), was planning to make a government statement on his strategy in the fight against the virus in state parliament on Wednesday.

He has been calling for more nationwide uniform measures, such as tougher face mask rules.

Throughout the crisis Söder has been cautious in his approach to dealing with the virus. His swift action has made him a high profile figure in Germany.

Bavaria, with 13 million people, has been one of the worst affected German states in the pandemic. During the carnival holidays in February 2020 at the start of the crisis, lots of people, including Bavarians, went skiing in South Tyrol and Austria.

According to experts, these skiing holidays are understood to have fuelled the spread of coronavirus, particularly affecting Bavaria but also the rest of Germany.

READ ALSO: Why has Bavaria been so hard hit in coronavirus pandemic

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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.