Germans return to pools and beer gardens as some Covid curbs are lifted

Many Germans were able to visit a beer garden, dine outdoors or go swimming for the first time in months on Friday as parts of the country began easing Covid-19 curbs.

Germans return to pools and beer gardens as some Covid curbs are lifted
A swimmer in Berlin on early Friday morning. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Paul Zinken

Germany has been in some form of virus shutdown since November and tentative reopenings in March were quickly quashed by national “emergency brake” measures to stop a spiralling third wave of the virus.

But with case numbers falling and the country ramping up its vaccination effort, many cities and regions were lifting restrictions over the Pentecost holiday weekend.

Berliner Sonja Gellfart was already in the pool at 7:30 am.

“It’s the feeling of freedom because one can get in here,” she told AFP, as other swimmers splashed past.

Elsewhere in Berlin, beer gardens and restaurants were getting ready to welcome guests outdoors.

READ ALSO: The rules in Germany on outdoor dining as bars and restaurants reopen

The city had already on Wednesday reopened cinemas, theatres and opera houses, as well as giving the green light to cultural events with up to 250 participants.

“We still have the pandemic, with much higher incidence rates than when the pools were allowed to reopen a year ago,” Kleinsorg said.

“We are keeping our fingers crossed that it will be a great summer, also in terms of the weather.”

Elsewhere in Berlin, beer gardens and restaurants were getting ready to welcome guests outdoors.

The city had already on Wednesday allowed open-air cinemas to restart, as well as for theatres and opera houses to hold performances outdoors with up to 250 participants.

Customers must provide either a negative test or proof they have been fully vaccinated or recovered from Covid-19.

“I think customers will get used to it and get tested more often,” said Jan, a waiter at the Zazza cafe in central Berlin.

Armed with a negative test result on his phone, customer David Gasarabo was happy to take a seat on the terrace and enjoy “the atmosphere of normality after all those months of standing with a coffee in my hand”.

Relaxations are also planned from Friday in Germany’s most populous state of North Rhine-Westphalia, as well as other states including Thuringia, Saxony and the city of Hamburg.

Bavaria has already opened outdoor dining and beer gardens, and on Friday will open hotels and guest houses in areas with low incidence rates.

To use the facilities, customers must provide either a negative test or proof they have been fully vaccinated or recovered from Covid-19.

Health Minister Jens Spahn on Friday said Germany had broken the third wave of infections but urged the public to remain careful.

“The pandemic is not over yet. Let’s enjoy the holidays, but let’s remain cautious,” he said, advising people to meet outdoors where possible and get tested regularly.

“Infection figures down, vaccination figures up — if we can manage this combination in the next few weeks, we can look forward to a good summer,” he said.

Germany’s Robert Koch Institute (RKI) health agency on Friday recorded 8,769 new cases of Covid-19 in the past 24 hours and 226 deaths, with a national incidence rate of 67.3 new infections per 100,000 people over the past seven days.

READ ALSO: ‘We’re on the right track’: What’s the current Covid situation around Germany?

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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.