Thousands protest against Germany’s plan for nationwide Covid-19 measures

Police fired tear gas as they tried to break up thousands of protesters staging a demonstration in Berlin on Wednesday against a planned national virus law, according to an AFP video journalist at the scene.

Thousands protest against Germany's plan for nationwide Covid-19 measures
Demonstrators carry a poster that says 'the pack has risen'. Photo: DPA

Police said seven people were arrested after they sought to attack officers, AFP reported. 

Around 8,000 demonstrators – some not wearing masks – gathered near Berlin’s famous Brandenburg Gate, while the Bundestag debated the infection Protection Act,

The new law, which is being voted on by the Bundestag on Wednesday, gives the national government power to impose lockdown measures on areas with high coronavirus infection rates to slow the third wave of the pandemic.

The rules include curfews between 10pm and 5am, limits on private gatherings and on shop openings. Under the draft plans, schools will close and return to online teaching if the virus incidence rises above 165 cases per 100,000 residents in seven days.

Around 2,200 officers were at the scene, while the Reichstag building and Brandenburg Gate were cordoned off.

A police spokesperson said that water cannons were ready and could be used “if necessary”.

Police used a water canon on anti-Covid measure protesters in November 2020 to disperse crowds – the majority of whom were not wearing protective masks. The demos were held while the Bundestag reformed Germany’s coronavirus laws.

IN PICTURES: Here’s what happened at the anti-coronavirus measures rally in Berlin

On Wednesday, police officers with dogs stood near the demonstrators, while officers on horseback could also be seen. Task forces from Brandenburg, North Rhine-Westphalia, Bremen, Saxony and the federal police are supporting Berlin police.

Protesters chanted: “Peace, freedom, no dictatorship” while some made noise with whistles and drums. One poster read: “End scaremongering now”.

Police repeatedly called through a loudspeaker for protesters to comply with the coronavirus hygiene rules like wearing a mask and keeping distance.

Some people were detained for not following the rules, police said.

Police wrestling with a demonstrator on Wednesday. Photo: DPA

Why are people demonstrating?

A mix of people have been protesting against tougher coronavirus measures in Germany over the past year. They include far-right groups, conspiracy theorists, so-called anti-vaxxers (those who are against vaccinations) and people who do not want restrictions on their freedom.

There are also some militant activists who have compared government measures to the Enabling Act of 1933 which gave Nazi leader Adolf Hitler’s government dictatorial powers.

Protests against the new law have been held in previous weeks across the country.

Several demos against the new law changes were registered around the Berlin government quarter on Wednesday.

According to police, from 10am onwards, a demo was registered at Brandenburg Gate for 1,000 participants and one on the nearby Straße des 17. Juni.

In addition, a demonstration with 1,000 participants was announced for the afternoon, which is planned to start near Bellevue Palace. Several smaller rallies are also planned.

Four gatherings have been banned by the authorities. One demonstration, originally planned to take place near the Reichstag embankment with 2,000 participants, was banned, the police spokeswoman added. She did not give a reason for the ban.

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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.