‘Numbers are too high’: Munich tightens coronavirus mask rules and contact restrictions

As parties held to celebrate this year's cancelled Oktoberfest take place, the city of Munich is tightening coronavirus measures.

'Numbers are too high': Munich tightens coronavirus mask rules and contact restrictions
People in traditional costume celebrate on the Oktoberfest grounds in Munich on Saturday. Photo: DPA

In a bid to limit the spread of coronavirus, authorities in the Bavarian capital have decided to make mouth and nose coverings mandatory in certain public places and streets in the city centre.

This was decided at a meeting involving the city's crisis management team, which met on Monday morning. The regulation is to apply from Thursday onwards and will affect areas including Marienplatz and Viktualienmarkt.

In addition, further rules will come into force from Thursday:

  • Only five people will be allowed to meet in public spaces, said Mayor Dieter Reiter, of the centre-left Social Democrats. Exceptions are meetings of two households, which together comprise more people, or close relatives
  • As a further measure, a maximum limit of 25 people will be allowed in indoor spaces and 50 people for meetings outdoors. This applies for private celebrations such as birthdays, weddings or even funerals. Regular events such as theatre or concerts are not affected by this restriction. “We must do everything we can to avoid crowds, and this applies in particular to celebrations,” said Reiter.

State premier Markus Söder of the centre-right Christian Social Union (CSU), said the city's health department would in future be supported by the German armed forces. “We will ask the Bundeswehr to provide 100 people to improve tracking,” he said.

On Sunday, the coronavirus figures in Munich reached 55.6 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants in one week. In Germany, measures are tightened in regions or cities when the threshold of 50 new cases per 100,000 people in seven days is reached.

Söder slammed the carelessness of some people. “Munich has very high numbers, too high numbers.” The situation in Munich is considered to be particularly worrying because no single explanation is blamed for the increase. Instead the infections are being logged in different groups across the board.

However, celebrations held to replace Oktoberfest, which was cancelled this year, are in the spotlight.

READ ALSO: How Bavaria fears coronavirus surge during replacement parties for Oktoberfest

A total of 50 restaurants opened their doors for the WirtshausWiesn at the weekend when Oktoberfest was due to start. Authorities had feared in advance that people might celebrate a “wild Wiesn” on the Theresienwiese, where the festival usually takes place.

Söder said he had mixed feelings when looking at pictures of replacemen celebrations, particularly at the Viktualienmarkt.

In an interview with radio station B5, Söder brought up the issue of compulsory masks in public places in Munich. “I don't want to take away anyone's joy,” said Söder. However, in view of the high infection rates in Munich, he said they were needed.

People enjoying the sunshine in Munich on Saturday, the day Oktoberfest 2020 was meant to start. Photo: DPA

On Saturday morning, at the time of the traditional first beer keg tapping, things remained quiet. A ban on alcohol was aimed at preventing wild partying and reducing the risk of infection rates spiralling out of control.

Mayor Reiter had also asked everyone who wanted to celebrate despite the Oktoberfest being cancelled to observe the coronavirus rules.

Increasing coronavirus spread

Meanwhile, Söder has called for a meeting with other state premiers and Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss rising rates.

The authorities in several cities in North Rhine-Westphalia also want to discuss whether stricter measures should be introduced again due to rising rates. With 46.9 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants within seven days, Hamm is close to the threshold of 50.

READ ALSO: 'Fever outpatient clinics': German health minister proposes new coronavirus strategy

There are concerns in other cities too. On Monday Gelsenkirchen stood at 44.1 cases per 100,000 people in seven days and Remscheid at 37.8. For Cologne, the figure on Monday was 33.2.

There are also rising figures in Berlin. In the popular district of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg the number of new infections on Monday was logged at 50.8 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, the Tagesspiegel reported.

Berlin health senator Dilek Kalayci said she was concerned because it is becoming increasingly difficult to trace contact chains. The increase in new infections in Berlin is gaining momentum, she said.

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Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

German health ministers say that tougher Covid restrictions should come back into force if a serious wave emerges in autumn.

Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

Following a video meeting on Monday, the health ministers of Germany’s 16 states said tougher restrictions should be imposed again if they are needed. 

“The corona pandemic is not over yet – we must not be deceived by the current declining incidences,” said Saxony-Anhalt’s health minister Petra Grimm-Benne, of the Social Democrats, who currently chairs the Conference of Health Ministers (GMK).

According to the GMK, new virus variants are expected to appear in autumn and winter. Over the weekend, federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) also warned that the more dangerous Delta variant could return to Germany. “That is why the federal Ministry of Health should draw up a master plan to combat the corona pandemic as soon as possible and coordinate it with the states,” Grimm-Benne said.

Preparations should also include an amendment of the Infection Protection Act, ministers urged. They want to see the states given powers to react to the infection situation in autumn and winter. They called on the government to initiate the legislative process in a timely manner, and get the states actively involved.

The current Infection Protection Act expires on September 23rd this year. Germany has loosened much of its Covid restrictions in the last months, however, face masks are still compulsory on public transport as well as on planes. 

READ ALSO: Do people in Germany still have to wear Covid masks on planes?

The health ministers said that from autumn onwards, it should be possible for states to make masks compulsory indoors if the regional infection situation calls for it. Previously, wearing a Covid mask was obligatory in Germany when shopping and in restaurants and bars when not sitting at a table. 

Furthermore, the so-called 3G rule for accessing some venues and facilities – where people have to present proof of vaccination, recovery, or a negative test – should be implemented again if needed, as well as other infection protection rules, the ministers said. 

Bavaria’s health minister Klaus Holetschek, of the CSU, welcomed the ministers’ unanimous call for a revision of the Infection Protection Act. “The states must be able to take all necessary infection protection measures quickly, effectively, and with legal certainty,” he said.

North Rhine-Westphalia’s health minister Karl-Josef Laumann (CDU) warned that no one should “lull themselves into a false sense of security”.

“We must now prepare for the colder season and use the time to be able to answer important questions about the immunity of the population or the mechanisms of infection chains,” he said.

On Tuesday, Germany reported 86,253 Covid infections within the latest 24 hour period, as well as 215 Covid-related deaths. The 7-day incidence stood at 437.6 infections per 100,000 people. However, experts believe there could be twice as many infections because lots of cases go unreported. 

READ ALSO: Five things to know about the Covid pandemic in Germany right now