Coronavirus and Partially Relaxed Restrictions in Germany

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Coronavirus and Partially Relaxed Restrictions in Germany

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Last updated: 14 May 2020 / by Sam Williams

As all the countries in the world adjust to a new, temporary way of life, Germany has been taking tentative steps to lift the lockdown. With a mortality rate of just 92 per million of the population from COVID-19, many nations view Angela Merkel’s government as having one of the most successful strategies.

Virologists have cautioned that releasing the restrictions too quickly will lead to a resurgence in the rate of infection, and consequently, deaths. There is a very careful balancing act required for leaders of every country.

There is no definitive solution on the best way to remove lockdown restrictions or the speed at which to do so. Germany has a small disadvantage because it is one of the first European countries to be able to start recovering.

So, what has changed in Germany since the country was locked down? And has there been any noticeable effect on the presence of the coronavirus?

Germany’s Strategy

Angela Merkel has spearheaded Germany’s response to the coronavirus, and many have pointed to her background as a research scientist as being one of the reasons for their success. In contrast to many other world leaders, Merkel’s scientific doctorate has provided her with a more in-depth understanding of the issues, without having to rely on medics to explain the detail solely.

From the start, Germany adopted a stringent “track and trace” strategy to find all contacts associated with every case of the virus. Following this transmission chain so robustly has led to some of the lowest rates of the virus in Europe. The first case was traced to a canteen in Stockdorf, and from there, every contact was meticulously tracked, traced and isolated.

This has meant that although the coronavirus has caused some tragic deaths in Germany, the total is much lower than elsewhere. Per 1 million of the population, there have been 92deaths in Germany. Compare this to Italy where there have been 511deaths per million, Spain with 576deaths per 1mill or Belgium with 756deaths per million of the population and the effect of German strategy is clear.

Government medics in Germany say they were able to learn from other countries who were infected with the coronavirus before them and could see the strategies that worked. South Korea adopted a similar track and trace strategy and has managed to keep the overall death rate very low.

Although there remains a risk that the virus could peak again, Germany has been so successful in restricting the spread of the virus, they had been able to start to gradually lift restrictions. These restrictions were being lifted slowly and in steps so that the impact of any changes could be checked and considered.

What are the current restrictions?

It can be hard to keep up to date with the latest restrictions, so here is a run-through of the latest guidelines from Angela Merkel and her government as they start to ease the lockdown:

  • Social distancing to continue until at least 5th June

    Social distancing has been credited as one of the primary reasons why the spread of the virus has slowed. Experts do not yet believe the numbers are low enough yet to be able to lift the restrictions fully and social distancing will remain in place.

    Social distancing previously meant you should only be out in public by yourself or with members of your household. This has now been updated to allow two households to meet, providing social distancing is strictly observed. A two-meter distance should always be observed between you and anyone else out in public (excluding members of your household). Some states are enforcing much stricter rules than others on this.

  • Family visits remain banned

    Many people are desperate to meet up with loved ones, but Germans have been asked to refrain from visiting family members or friends just yet. No visits should be made to other households, and there should be no public meet-ups.

  • Schools have been re-opening in phases

    Schools have been gradually re-opening their doors, starting with the older students due to take exams. All schoolchildren are expected to be back in their classrooms before the summer holidays.

    Daycare centers will begin to cautiously re-open now too, starting with families who are the most in need from the middle of May.

  • No major events until 31st August, possibly longer

    To avoid a second peak of the virus, all major gatherings have been postponed until 31st August, at the soonest.

    Each of the states will be allowed to define what they consider as a “major event” but it will include football matches and other sports.

    Religious gatherings are not excluded from this provision and will also be banned until 31st August.

  • Football to restart behind closed doors

    Although no major events or gatherings are taking place, the football leagues in Germany will still be restarting.

    Playing behind closed doors without any fans, the first matches are due to take place on 16th May, with even the topflight Bundesliga kicking off.

    These are the first professional football leagues to re-start in Europe and other leagues are watching closely.

  • Hairdressers can open from 4th May

    Hairdressers have been permitted to re-open from 4th May, but only if protective measures are always taken.

  • Shops of up to 800 sqm re-opened

    Re-opening the shops is seen as a massive boost for the economy and from 20th April, shops up to 800 square meters were able to do so. However, there are strict limits on how many people they permit inside at once with clear hygiene rules in practice.

    Bookstores, bike shops and car dealers opened too, even if they are bigger than 800 sqm. They must be able to prevent queues from forming and have hygiene rules in place.

  • All other shops to re-open

    The very latest restrictions mean that other German shops will be allowed to open now. This includes large department stores and shopping malls. This is dependent on strict hygiene controls which the government rolled out.

  • Border restrictions to remain in place

    The new border controls will continue for a minimum of 20 further days. This means that any travelers arriving into Germany will face a 14-day quarantine to prevent cases of the virus being brought in from elsewhere.

  • Masks are recommended

    Wearing face masks has been a contentious issue, but state and federal governments agree. The guidance says that face masks should always be worn on public transport. They should also be worn while shopping. This is to provide the individual with protection, but also to prevent unintentional infection to others.

  • Pubs, bars, restaurants, hotels, theatres and clubs to re-open by the end of May

    The hospitality, travel and entertainment industries have suffered heavy losses during the shutdown. Angela Merkel has given them the green light to re-open, but the decision is up to each individual state.

  • Care homes, hospitals and other institutions to allow one visitor

    People living in care homes and other facilities have struggled with the isolation, possibly more than anyone. The new rules allow one person to visit them, but it must be the same person visiting each time.

The government and its scientific advisors will, of course, be watching the data closely as these measures are implemented and may reinstate tougher restrictions if there are signs that the number of cases is beginning to rise. Angela Merkel has indicated that she doesn’t want to to-reimpose a countrywide lockdown once again, and is looking to each of the states to be responsible about monitoring their local level of infection.

Not Over Yet

Although the signs are looking promising, the German government has warned that vigilance is still needed. They expect further deaths to occur and are concerned that a second wave of the coronavirus could occur. Anyone who has had contact with someone diagnosed with coronavirus is being advised to isolate and telephone for medical assistance, even if they have no symptoms.

By maintaining this schedule of tracking, tracing and testing, Germany hope to be able to keep the coronavirus under control and gradually continue to ease restrictions.

There have been some indications that the virus is beginning to rise once more, and some states have brought in tighter restrictions once more. The government has passed emergency legislation which allows them to insist an area locks down. The rate of infection is the indication for this; more than 50 new COVID-19 infections per 100,000 residents in seven days triggers the lockdown.

Different parts of Germany presently have differing rates of infection, and the flexible policies announced by Angela Merkel allow each state to adapt their approach. Even in the states which have been the quickest to re-open, such as Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, must continue to socially distance and act responsibly, or face being forced to shut facilities down again.

Experts say that the effects of loosening the lockdown may take up to two weeks to become visible. Germany has continued pressing ahead with its schedule of releasing the restrictions, despite some concerns over the rate of infection creeping up once more.

Approximately 142,000 tests are carried out every day and the all-important R-number has started to climb. The R-number calculates how many people a single infect person transmits the virus to. This R-number had previously dropped to 0.7 but has started to increase again to more than 1.0. This is the figure that German scientists will be tracking, and what others around the world will be watching. The R-number is the earliest indicator that deaths could start to increase.

Germany has been credited with a proactive, well-managed response to the coronavirus, but they are now in uncharted territory. With such a contagious virus, any slight misstep could be catastrophic so the situation will continue to be tightly monitored, both at a federal and local level.

Coronavirus and Partially Relaxed Restrictions in Germany

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