Germany's infection rate rises above one after lockdown eased

Our Foreign Staff
·4 min read
Protesters rally against the German's government lockdown policies in Berlin  - Sean Gallup /Getty 
Protesters rally against the German's government lockdown policies in Berlin - Sean Gallup /Getty

Germany’s coronavirus reproduction rate – the crucial measure shows how widely the virus is spreading in the community – has risen to 1.1, giving rise to fears that a second wave of infections may be imminent.

The findings come just days after the country begun the first phase of relaxing its coronavirus lockdown measures, while anti-lockdown protests have been building across the country.

Germany has been lauded internationally for its coordinated response to the virus and its corresponding low death rate, with 7,549 having fallen victim to the disease there until Saturday, compared with 31,587 in the UK, which has a much smaller population.

But the rise in infections suggests that the lockdown relaxations may have been premature, and is a headache for Chancellor Angela Merkel who has limits on her powers in Germany's decentralised system.

Britain will be watching the developments closely as it begins to move towards easing lockdown.

When she announced a relaxation of lockdown measures on Wednesday, Germany’s reproduction rate was at 0.65, before rising to 0.81 on Friday and 1.1 on Saturday.

A rate of 1 or more means that each carrier of the virus infects at least one more person, ensuring it continues to spread.  

Germany’s Robert Koch Institute which compiled the figures, said it that while the rate has been increasing rapidly since Wednesday, at this stage it cannot be determined whether the relaxed lockdowns were responsible.  

It said: “The increase in the estimated (reproduction) value makes it necessary to watch the development very carefully over the next few days.|"

The findings come from data compiled on Saturday, and show that the infection rate has now effectively doubled in the three days since the relaxation of lockdown restrictions.

On Saturday, outbreaks at several meatpacking plants in North Rhine-Westphalia – the country’s most populous state - prompted the state leadership to promise to test each of the estimated 18-20,000 meatworkers in the state.

In the western town of Coesfeld, where 151 of 200 slaughterhouse workers tested positive for the virus, authorities decided to suspend lockdown relaxations.

Despite the outbreaks, Armin Laschet, Prime Minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, called for the country’s border with France to be reopened in order to foster European solidarity.

Merkel struck a different tone when announcing the first phase of relaxations midweek, reminding the German public “we still have a long fight against the virus ahead of us”.  

It was a rare example of contradicting sentiments between the German leader and the man favoured to succeed her as leader of the Christian Democrats when she steps down next year.

Despite the continued danger posed by Covid-19, protesters took to the streets across Germany at the weekend to criticise the lockdown measures.

Thousands gathered in Berlin, Frankfurt, Stuttgart and other German cities, saying their rights were being infringed and complaining that the government and medical workers were spreading panic. 

In Munich, more than 3,000 people – many without masks and not respecting social distancing rules - gathered in the city’s central Marienplatz, with signs critical of “health fascism” and proclaiming: “We want our lives back”.

Although there have been consistent protests against the measures since they were first put in place in March, the weekend’s demonstrations were the biggest seen so far since the outbreak of the virus.

The German Press Agency reports that although the group was well over the maximum of 50 people allowed to attend demonstrations under the government’s coronavirus restrictions, police decided not to break up the largely peaceful demonstration in the interests of “proportionality”.  

Munich Mayor Dieter Reiter was heavily critical of the protesters on Sunday.  

Despite saying he empathised with their desire “to return to a certain normality”, Reiter told German media "I have absolutely no understanding of actions or demonstrations that, due to the lack of distance and mouth / nose protection, counteract any positive developments in the infection and more likely to jeopardise further loosening than to enable it."  

Reiter also said he found it “absolutely unbearable” that the protests had a heavy presence from known far-right groups.