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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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.