Germany adopts loose lockdown despite record-breaking Covid-19 cases

Schools, hairdressers and shops remain open in ‘lockdown lite’ as testing hits capacity

Travellers wear protective face masks on the escalators at Berlin’s Central Station. Photograph: Liesa Johannssen-Koppitz/Bloomberg

Travellers wear protective face masks on the escalators at Berlin’s Central Station. Photograph: Liesa Johannssen-Koppitz/Bloomberg

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Germany began its second lockdown on Monday but the bustling shopping streets in Berlin suggest locals in the capital are taking a liberal approach – as infections reach a new high.

The so-called “lockdown lite” has forced the closure of pubs and restaurants, except for takeaway, as well as gyms, cinemas and all cultural events. Unlike in the spring, however, schools, childcare and hairdressers have remained open. Shops are still trading, with a new rule of one customer per 10 sq m floor space.

“We’ve got 6,000 square metres of floor space so no capacity problems,” said a security man in an electronics store as 10 people waited to pay, none 1.5m apart. “It’s slightly quieter than usual now, but not much, and in two hours it’ll be very busy.”

In a neighbouring drug store, as queues of masked customers waited to pay, maskless staff at the tills summoned maskless managers for queries.

“The new rule is no masks for staff in essential services,” said the cashier. A non-scientific survey on the shopping centre, based on maskless staff, suggests that jewellery stores, shoe shops and beauty salons have all self-declared as essential services.

Outside on the Wilmersdorfer Strasse, a pedestrianised shopping precinct in the western city centre, a sign urged pedestrians to observe distancing “so that we can have birthday parties again”.

Adjacent, a maskless man was having a spontaneous street party, swigging from a beer bottle and urging passersby to dance with him.

He was not the only one feeling festive. On Thursday police in the Bavarian district of Kulmbach reported pulling over a man in a stretch limousine, celebrating his 28th birthday with a five close friends and a modest amount of cocaine.

Germany’s second lockdown rules ban gatherings of people from more than two households.

Hospitalisation

As Berlin shoppers bought mobile-phone covers and peppermint tea on Thursday, the capital’s hospital directors sounded the alarm.

In the last 10 days the number of Berliners requiring hospital care has doubled to 883; so too the number requiring intensive care to 227.

“We have a very serious situation with considerably more patients in intensive care wards than last spring,” said Prof Steffen Weber-Carstens, of the Charité university clinic, announcing plans to postpone non-essential operations.

The Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s disease control body, confirmed on Thursday that health authorities had registered 19,990 new cases of the virus in the past 24 hours countrywide, beating the previous record of just over 19,000, which was reached last Saturday.

At the end of September, chancellor Angela Merkel warned that, without an additional lockdown, Germany would have 19,000 daily cases by Christmas.

A further 118 people have died with or of the virus in the past day, putting Germany’s total number of deaths since the start of the pandemic at just under 11,000.

The crucial R number reported on Thursday was 0.81, down from 0.94 on Wednesday. This value captures the rate of infection roughly 10 days ago, before the latest lockdown began.

Germany’s testing has already reached its capacity limit of 1.4 million, prompting changes to test criteria to exclude people with simple cold symptoms.

Meanwhile Germany’s federal government has agreed the details of financial assistance for those hit hardest by the second shutdown.

Business owners, performers and others who are now unable to work can apply for a one-off bridging payment based on 75 per cent of their average monthly earnings in 2019. Individual artists or sole traders are entitled to up to €5,000. To avoid breaching EU competition law, no individual payment can exceed €1 million.

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