Berlin opts for tougher coronavirus contact rules over Christmas

Berlin is implementing the new coronavirus measures – but contact restrictions will be even tighter in the capital over Christmas compared to other parts of Germany.

Berlin opts for tougher coronavirus contact rules over Christmas
Restaurants in Germany, including Berlin, are closed. Photo: DPA

States across Germany are putting in place the new coronavirus measures agreed by Chancellor Angela Merkel and states.

However, due to the rising number of Covid-19 cases in Berlin, contact restrictions will be tougher .

Tougher contact restrictions

Public life in Germany has been largely restricted since the beginning of November. Restaurants, bars, cultural and leisure facilities are closed, while social contacts have to be cut down. However, schools and Kitas remain open, as do shops.

Berlin is particularly affected, with new Covid-19 cases topping more than 1,000 per day. For this reason, the Berlin Senate decided on new coronavirus measures, which go beyond the agreement reached by Merkel and the states on Wednesday.

According to the Mayor of Berlin, Michael Müller, the rules are to remain in force until January. Before Christmas, however, the Senate will review to see whether the measures are appropriate.

What are the contact rules?

The Senate urges the capital's population to reduce physical social contacts to the “absolutely necessary minimum”. The minimum distance of 1.5 metres should be maintained whenever possible.

In buses and trains, or in services such as at the hairdresser or in Kindergartens, the distance may be less but masks should be worn in this case.

In addition, the Senate has imposed firm contact restrictions for private meetings outdoors and indoors. From December 1st, gathering outside and indoors is only permitted:

  •     alone/ with members of your own household
  •     or with people from a maximum of one other household
  •     A maximum of five people may meet in both cases
  •     Children up to 12 years of age are excluded

 It changes during the festive period:

  • From December 23rd to January 1st, people in Berlin can meet with a maximum of five other people. No specifications were made as to how many households they can come from
  • Children up to the age of 12 are not included in this rule

That differs from the national line: in other federal states (unless they agree otherwise), meetings with a maximum of 10 people are allowed between Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, and children up to the age of 14 are not included.

New Year’s rules – these are in line with the restrictions agreed by the government and states.

  • Setting off fireworks in the streets is not recommended, and the Senate may ban it in busy public places
  • However, the sale, purchase and setting off of fireworks is not banned

The regulations are to be published in full on Saturday by the Berlin Senate.

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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.