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OKTOBERFEST

Munich’s Oktoberfest cancelled again over Covid

Germany's iconic Oktoberfest beer festival will be cancelled this year for the second year running due to the pandemic, Bavarian state premier Markus Söder said Monday.

Munich's Oktoberfest cancelled again over Covid
A beer bottle lies on the empty Oktoberfest fairgrounds. Photo: DPA

Holding big public events in Bavaria, including the annual Oktoberfest in the regional capital Munich, will not be feasible this year, Söder said after a meeting with city mayor Dieter Reiter.

“In the classic beer tents at the big festivals, social distancing, masks and other measures are practically impossible to implement,” Söder said.

“The situation is too precarious,” he added. “Imagine there was a new wave and it then became a superspreader event. The brand would be damaged forever and we don’t want that.”

Reiter said the cancellation was “a great pity” for the millions of fans of the festival, with “existential consequences” for people’s livelihoods.

READ ALSO: Oktoberfest in numbers: A look at Germany’s multi-billion euro business

The event, which draws around six million visitors annually from late September to October, was cancelled in 2020 for the first time since World War II.

But the Oktoberfest has previously fallen victim to epidemics — cholera kept the beer tents empty in 1854 and 1873.

With Germany’s vaccination effort picking up pace and new infection numbers beginning to slow, the government was Monday weighing new freedoms for those who have been vaccinated.

Some states have already lifted contact restrictions for vaccinated people, with the government planning national rules by the end of the week.

But Finance Minister Olaf Scholz told the Funke media group on Monday there was “still not much to be said” for a large event like the Oktoberfest.

“We should hold off on large crowds in a confined space for the time being,” he said.

READ ALSO: Oktoberfest ‘very unlikely’ to take place in 2021, says Munich’s mayor

Söder and Reiter ultimately decided to cancel it after consulting with other leaders of cities with large festivals.

“It’s a decision I have to make now. It makes no sense to wait,” Reiter said.

An alternative Oktoberfest celebration is set to take place in Dubai this year, starting in October and running for six months rather than the typical three weeks in the Bavarian capital.

Yet Munich’s city government wrote on their website that the sprawling event won’t replace the original two century old festival, as was widely reported.

READ ALSO: Is Germany’s Oktoberfest heading to Dubai this year?

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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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