EXPLAINED: How Hamburg is relaxing its Covid rules

Germany’s second largest city is relaxing its coronavirus rules on Tuesday, reflecting an improving epidemic situation in the harbour city.

EXPLAINED: How Hamburg is relaxing its Covid rules
People on the Hamburg harbour front in late May. Photo: dpa | Georg Wendt

The Hamburg city senate has agreed a whole host of new relaxations to its pandemic rules, which will come into force at midnight on Tuesday.

The city justified the move by saying that “infection rates have stayed stable in recent weeks despite the lifting of many restrictions.”

The relaxations to the rules come as the northern city-sate has a current rate of 11 cases per 100,000 residents over a period of seven days.

Gatherings & events

Starting Tuesday, ten people from different households will be able to meet indoors again. Up until now only five people from separate households have been allowed to meet inside.

People who have recovered and those who are fully vaccinated are not bound by the restrictions, nor are children.

Gatherings of up to ten people outdoors are already allowed.

Any gathering larger than that is treated like an official event. That means that people still need to present a negative test when they arrive and have to wear face masks when standing.

Weddings, which are considered to be events without fixed seating, can take place outdoors with up to 250 people, or up to 50 people indoors.

For events with fixed seating, there will now be a limit of 500 guests for outdoor events and 100 guests indoors.

Dining & shopping

In the gastronomy sector, people are allowed to eat and drink once again while standing. Indoor diners will still have to provide a negative test result. Everyone will have to provide contact details for contact tracing purposes.

Large stores can also now allow in double the amount of shoppers – up from one person per 20 square metres to two people per 20 square metres.

Tourism, sport, religion

Some sporting activities will become considerably easier: the city will once again allow indoor contact sport with up to ten participants.

People taking tours of the city or its harbour will no longer have to provide a negative test, while they will only have to wear medical masks rather than FFP2 masks.

There is also good news for religious communities: singing will once again be allowed in the city’s churches and other places of worship.

SEE ALSO: Hamburg to open restaurants earlier than planned as Covid incidence falls below 50 mark

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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.