Berlin tightens Covid rules with dancing ban

After a few months of respite for Berlin's famous clubs, the city state is to reintroduce its famous dancing ban - through nightlife will remain open, at least for the time being.

Queue outside Berlin techno club Berghain
Hundreds of people queue outside Berghain, Berlin's most famous techno club, on October 2nd, 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christophe Gateau

The reintroduction of the dancing ban is part of a number of new restrictions that were agreed by the Berlin Senate on Friday and which are set to come into force on Wednesday, December 8th.

The Tanzverbot, or dancing ban, harks back to the spring of 2021 when clubs were first allowed reopen after a long hiatus. While people were allowed to gather at clubs to socialise and drink, dancing to the music was strictly forbidden.

This rule was eventually scrapped on August 20th after a court found it to be disproportionate.

Now, as the fourth wave continues to make its presence felt, it is set to return.

READ ALSO: Techno, Testing and Tanzverbot: What it’s like to go to Berlin’s clubs under Covid rules

No bar closures – yet 

In light of spiralling infections in the capital, the Senate had previously agreed that it wanted to shut down Berlin’s nightlife, restaurants and cultural venues. However, blanket closures of businesses aren’t currently allowed under the amended Infection Protection Act. 

States lost the power to enforce measures such as alcohol bans, curfews, lockdown and blanket closures of pubs and clubs when the ‘epidemic situation of national importance’ expired on November 25th. 

Though the incoming government agreed on Thursday to grant states the power to close businesses when infections are high, those changes haven’t yet been signed into law.

According to Christian Gaebler, Head of the Senate Chancellery, this is why a dancing ban is set to come into force as opposed to widespread closures of clubs and bars. 

The German parliament is expected to put through an amendment to the Infection Protection Act that would allow states to order the closures of bars, restaurants and clubs at weekly incidences of more than 350 per 100,000 people. 

As of Friday, the 7-day incidence of Covid cases in Berlin was 360 per 100,000 people. 

According to the German parliamentary diary, these changes will be discussed in the Bundestag on December 9th – a day after Olaf Scholz is voted in as Chancellor.

Should they be put through parliament the same week – and assuming the incidence in Berlin doesn’t drop below 350 – sweeping closures could come into force in Berlin ahead of Christmas. 

Bar in Friedrichshain during lockdown
Shuttered bars in the Berlin district of Friedrichshain during the nighttime curfew in May 2021. If changes to the Infection Protection Act go through, Berlin could order blanket bar closures. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christophe Gateau

Restrictions for the unvaccinated

Other measures decided on Friday include contact restrictions for the unvaccinated, an upper limit of 5,000 attendees at outdoor public events and the obligation to present a certificate of vaccination or recovery or a negative test (‘3G’) in order to play contact sports outdoors.

The 3G rule will also apply at public administrative buildings such as the Bürgeramt. 

A system known as ‘2G’ in which people are required to present a certificate of vaccination or recovery will continue to apply at non-essential shops and other public indoor spaces. In addition, a blanket 2G rule will be brought in at Christmas markets. 

The Senate is currently formulating plans to restrict crowding and enable social distancing in restaurants so that gastronomy can remain open even when infection rates are high. 

Meanwhile, meetings where at least one unvaccinated person is present will be restricted to one household and a maximum of two other people. 

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Germany’s new Covid rules to fight fourth wave

It is important to keep in mind “what it means to be unvaccinated now”, Berlin Mayor Michael Müller said at a press conference announcing the changes.

“Restricting the vaccinated won’t work,” he added. “The unvaccinated are the ones who are restricted in their range of movement, in public and in private.”

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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.