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UPDATE: Berlin protesters clash with police in shutdown demo

German police on Wednesday fired water cannon to disperse thousands of unmasked protesters who had massed in central Berlin to demonstrate against government measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

UPDATE: Berlin protesters clash with police in shutdown demo
Protesters gathered near the Brandenburg Gate. Photo: DPA

After repeated warnings for the crowd to put on their nose-and-mouth coverings went unheeded, police said they would take action to clear the  protest and “detain violators”.

As water was sprayed on the crowd, protesters chanted “shame, shame”, refusing to leave the site.

Around 5,000 radical activists massed at the Brandenburg Gate, after the German government banned rallies outside parliament over police warnings the demonstration could turn violent.

The interior ministry said Tuesday it had been informed by security services that protesters intended to block access to the Reichstag and Bundesrat buildings, justifying the ban.

The Bundestag security force warned MPs that “demonstrators from politically radical and even violent groups” were expected to take part in Wednesday's protests with “attacks” possible.

Protest organisers accused the government of trying to establish a “dictatorship” with shutdown measures that were tightened this month to slow infection rates.

Demonstrators carried posters showing German political leaders including Chancellor Angela Merkel in prison garb and emblazoned with the word “guilty”.

In online chatrooms, militant activists compared the government measures to the Enabling Act of 1933 which gave Nazi leader Adolf Hitler's government dictatorial powers.

The provocative comments drew outrage, with Foreign Minister Heiko Maas tweeting: “Those who make such disgraceful comparisons mock the victims of National Socialism and show they have learned nothing from history.”

MPs were set to grant state governments formal powers to limit social contact to help halt the spread of the virus, putting the shutdown measures on a firmer legal footing.

Several hundred aggressive demonstrators had already tried in late August to storm the Reichstag building where the Bundestag lower house meets during a rally against coronavirus rules, in a protest Merkel condemned as “shameful”.

READ ALSO: Germany slams 'unacceptable' attempt to storm Reichstag building

The Bundestag security force warned MPs that “demonstrators from politically radical and even violent groups” were expected to take part in Wednesday's protests with “attacks” possible.

Achim Ecker, a demonstrator in his 50s who travelled to Berlin from neighbouring Brandenburg state, said the government was exaggerating the dangers posed by the pandemic.

“We don't need emergency measures,” he said. “I believe in our own immune systems.”

Earlier this month, more than 20,000 people joined a violent demonstration in the eastern city of Leipzig against curbs to control coronavirus infection.

Most participants refused a police order to disperse after ignoring requests to wear face coverings and keep a safe distance between participants.

Demonstrators attacked police and reporters, leading to 31 arrests. Political officials said that neo-Nazi supporters and extremist conspiracy theorists had helped incite the riots.

READ ALSO: German ministers condemn violence at Leipzig anti-mask protest

Germany has fared better than most of its European neighbours during the
pandemic, with polls showing broad acceptance of the government's measures to control the virus's spread.

But in response to a spike in infections this autumn, the country this
month shut down restaurants, leisure facilities and cultural sites to cut down on social contacts.

Merkel and leaders of the country's 16 states are to confer next Wednesday (November 25th) about a potential tightening of measures in the run up to the Christmas holiday period. 

On Wednesday, the Robert Koch Institute for disease control reported 17,561 new cases over the last 24 hours, bringing total infections to date to 833,307.

At least 13,119 people have died from the virus so far.

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COVID-19

German health agency expects number of Covid ICU patients to rise

The Covid pandemic is continuing to cause problems around Germany, with concerns that the number of patients needing treatment will rise in the coming weeks.

German health agency expects number of Covid ICU patients to rise

In its weekly Covid report, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) said that confirmed infections appeared to be rising in some German states, and falling in others.

But experts warned that the situation remained tense, with many infections not reported. 

Therefore, in the coming weeks, “hospitalisations, an increase in intensive care treatment and deaths are to be expected, especially among the elderly”, said the RKI.

People over the age of 80 “continue to be most affected by severe courses of the disease”, the experts said in their report. 

The incidence of infections is continuing to rise for this age group, and the number of outbreaks of Covid-19 in medical treatment facilities as well as in old people’s and nursing homes is going up.

READ ALSO: Which Covid rules are likely to return to Germany in autumn?

The number of patients with Covid-19 being treated in intensive care units (ICUs) is also rising slightly. In the previous week, the number was reported to be around 1,330. And on Thursday July 28th, 1,550 people were in ICUs in Germany with 484 receiving ventilation treatment, according to the DIVI intensive care register. 

The number of deaths in connection with the virus is currently around just over 400 per week. The RKI says this trend is a plateau.

When it comes to the overall picture of Covid in Germany, the RKI said there was a “sideways movement rather than a decreasing trend”.

Last week, the nationwide 7-day incidence decreased slightly compared to the previous week. The overall picture shows falling incidences in most western German states and Berlin, with incidences still rising slightly in the other eastern German states and Bavaria.

The RKI estimates there’s been a total of 800,000 to 1.5 million people with Covid (who also have symptoms) in the past week alone in Germany.

Last week experts warned that they expected the Covid situation to get worse in the coming weeks as many schools in Germany return after the summer break.

READ ALSO: Germany’s summer Covid wave set to get worse

The Omicron sub-variant BA.5, which has dominated in Germany since mid-June, has almost completely displaced other variants. It accounts for 89 percent of samples in the past week, the RKI said.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach warned people against underestimating getting Covid again.

The SPD politician pointed out that it was very easy to become infected with BA.5 – even for those who were infected with a previous type.

He warned that many could become seriously ill or die, plus there’s the risk of picking up Long Covid.

“Therefore, we have to solve the problem not by constant infection, but by better vaccines,” Lauterbach said.

‘Call things as they are’

Lauterbach, meanwhile, defended himself against his choice of words when describing the possibility of a new dangerous Covid variant emerging in autumn. 

In an interview with Bild newspaper in April he said: “It is quite possible that we will get a highly contagious Omicron variant that is as deadly as Delta – that would be an absolute killer variant.”

He was slammed for his dramatic choice of words. 

This week Lauterbach said: “I use few vocabulary that is apocalyptic. But sometimes you have to call things as they are.”

If there were a virus that linked the contagion of the BA.5 variant with the severe course of a Delta variant, “that would be a killer variant”, he maintained.

But he stressed that he had “not said that such a variant is definitely coming, but that we have to be prepared for such a variant”.

READ ALSO: German Health Minister calls on under 60s to get next Covid jab

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