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When (and how) will Germany relax Covid-19 restrictions?

When (and how) will Germany relax Covid-19 restrictions?
People enjoying the sun in Hamburg on Sunday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Daniel Bockwoldt
Germany introduced tougher nationwide Covid-19 measures in April. But now infections are falling, when will the country open up public life?

The number of Covid-19 infections has been falling in Germany since the end of April, signalling that the country is beating the third wave.

As other countries around Europe, such as France and Italy, set out plans for reopening public life, when and how will it happen in Germany?

What are the latest numbers?

On Monday, Germany reported 6,922 Covid infections within the last 24 hours and 54 deaths. A week ago the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported 9,160 cases.

The numbers are usually lower on Monday due to delays in reporting and testing over the weekend.

According to the RKI, the number of new infections per 100,000 residents reported within seven days ( the 7-day incidence) was 119.1 nationwide on Monday morning – a massive decrease from the previous week when it was 146.9. On Monday April 26th, the 7-day incidence was 169.3.

ANALYSIS: Why are Germany’s Covid cases coming down so sharply?

What measures are in place right now?

Aside from the widespread closures (more on them below), Chancellor Angela Merkel and the federal government brought in a nationwide law dubbed the ’emergency brake’ in April.

This forced states with high coronavirus numbers to put a pause on reopening public life, and instead introduce tougher rules like curfews and closures of non-essential shops.

Contact rules were also tightened so that a household could only meet with one other person. The restrictions before that point allowed two households to meet with up to five people.

The emergency brake came into force in districts and cities that had more than 100 infections per 100,000 residents within a 7-day period. That included most of Germany in April.

Now that infections are coming down, states, cities want to allow businesses to reopen. This will happen gradually on a step-by-step basis and will vary depending on the region.

As of Monday May 10th, about 156 districts had a 7-day incidence at 100 or below. Around 256 districts had an incidence above 100. Of those, 31 were over 200 infections per 100,000 residents in seven days.

This gives an idea of how much the situation varies across the country.

The lowest districts include Schleswig-Flensburg, which has managed to reach 24.4 infections per 100,000 residents, and Passau in Bavaria with an incidence of 24.6.

The map below by DPA shows the areas with the highest number of infections in purple or dark red. Lighter areas on the map have a lower infection rate.

What’s reopened so far?

Germany shut down facilities like restaurants, cafes (except takeaway), hotels (except for essential travellers), bars, gyms, and the cultural and leisure sector in November 2020. These have remained largely closed over a period of over six months. The restrictions got tougher in December – non-essential shops and hairdressers closed, as well as schools. Contact rules were tightened.

A few restrictions were eased earlier this year – for example hairdressers opened on March 1st. States have also been allowing things like garden centres and book shops to open – although this varies depending on the local region.

Some places also opened more facilities with mandatory rapid testing in place. For example, the state of Saarland, as well as Tübingen in Baden-Württemberg among others, had widespread opening of outdoor dining and other facilities in March. Much of that, however, had to shut due to the national emergency brake law.

What happens when districts or cities get below the ‘100’ mark?

Under this emergency brake law, regions that have a 7-day incidence below 100 on five consecutive days can end many restrictions, including the night-time curfews that last from 10pm to 5am.

In Bavaria for instance, beer gardens and outdoor dining is allowed to open again as of Monday, as well as cinema and concert halls, in areas with a stable incidence below 100.

The state also plans to open the tourism sector from May 21st in places with lower Covid rates.

READ ALSO: Bavaria reopens beer gardens, restaurants and cafes in areas with lower Covid rates

Berlin has managed to get the incidence rate under 100, and is now waiting for five days before it gives some businesses the go-ahead to reopen. The local government is to discuss a gradual opening plan on Tuesday.

Baden-Württemberg wants to reopen the hospitality sector by the Whitsun holidays around May 24th – but some places that have achieved better rates earlier may open before then.

Lower Saxony wants to introduce a step-by-step opening plan from May 10th.

The state of Hesse has no plans for reopening at the moment.

Hamburg wants to open up when the infection rate remains stable under 100 cases per 100,000 residents – but leaders there have warned about a “yo-yo effect” and want to avoid opening up and closing again. So expect the northern state to be cautious.

Some states like Schleswig-Holstein and Mecklenburg Western-Pomerania have started reopening their tourism sectors already with restrictions such as regular Covid-19 testing. 

There is an emphasis on opening outdoor facilities first. Indoor dining or other indoor activities will open later or require regular testing.

READ ALSO:

All in all it’s clear that a patchwork of reopening after the shutdown will happen in Germany and will very much depend on local rates.

Experts believe there will be a big drop in daily coronavirus infections later this month as more of the population gets vaccinated against the virus. When this happens we’ll see more facilities and travel opening up again.

However, restrictions such as the need for negative Covid-19 tests for the un-vaccinated as well as mandatory FFP2 masks and social distancing will likely remain in place for a longer period of time.

What about vaccinated people?

As we’ve been reporting, fully vaccinated people and those who are considered immune after recovering from Covid-19, already face fewer Covid restrictions.

For example, they do not have to adhere to curfew rules and contact restrictions. They also don’t have to present a negative rapid test to do certain things – proof of their inoculation against Covid-19 or recovery of the disease is enough.

READ ALSO:

This regulation came into force on Sunday May 9th. The latest numbers show around 7.6 million people in Germany have been completely vaccinated – 9.1 percent of the population.

Nearly one in three, or 32.3 percent, has received at least a first shot.


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