What’s the latest on coronavirus in Germany and what do I need to know?

As the number of coronavirus cases continues to rise in Germany, here’s what you need to know about the latest news on the spread of COVID-19 in the country, how the government is responding and the advice you need.

What’s the latest on the situation in Germany?

Chancellor Angela Merkel announced Wednesday April 1st that “Germany is to extend its current restrictions on public life to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus by two weeks until April 19th.”

German authorities on March 22nd ordered restaurants shut and banned gatherings of more than two people to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The restrictions were initially slated to last two weeks, but will now be extended until April 19th, to coincide with the end of the Easter school holidays.

Certain individual states including Bavaria, Germany’s largest state, had already announced an extension, and others will now follow suit in the coming days.

Merkel noted that the lengthened period of curbs means families may not be able to visit each other during Easter celebrations in Germany.

Meanwhile, Labour Minister Hubertus Heil revealed that 470,000 firms in Germany had applied for “Kurzarbeit”, a measure that sees the government top up the pay of workers placed on shorter hours by their employer, preserving the contractual relationship for the time when activity can continue again.

Heil said “the number of individual people affected would likely top the peak of 1.4 million seen in the 2009 financial crisis.”

Crisis will continue for coming weeks and months

Experts are cautiously optimistic that coronavirus social distancing measures in Germany are working to slow down the pandemic. However, they’ve warned the crisis will continue “for weeks and months” and that the death rate will rise.

That was the message from Lothar Wieler, head of Germany’s public health organisation the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) on Tuesday March 31st as he gave an update on the current situation in Germany.

“The pandemic is continuing and will carry on for weeks and months,” said Wieler during a press conference in Berlin.

As of Thursday, April 2nd at 1pm, there were more than 77,900 confirmed cases in Germany and more than 900 deaths, according to figures compiled by the Johns Hopkins University.

They differ slightly from RKI figures which only take into account electronically transmitted figures from Germany’s states and are updated once a day.

The actual number of COVID-19 cases is thought to be higher. Depending on an individual state’s policies, many other possible cases may not have been tested because they show only mild symptoms or have not been in contact with a known case.

Out of all the confirmed cases since January, there have been more than 20,900 reported full recoveries.

The majority of cases, more than 18,400, are in Bavaria, where a strict lockdown is in place until after the Easter holidays. It’s followed by North-Rhine Westphalia which has around 17,200 cases.

On Tuesday, the city of Jena became the first in Germany to introduce compulsory protective face masks that people must wear in shops, on public transportation, and in buildings with public access.

It’s sparked a debate over whether this should be rolled out Germany wide. However, experts are divided on how helpful they are.

And also on Tuesday, it emerged that Berlin was drawing up a catalogue of fines aimed at people who flout coronavirus restrictions.

According to the draft paper, seen by the Tagesspiegel, violations of the minimum distance in public spaces (1.5 metres) could in future cost between €50 and €500.

Looking to South Korea

The German government is currently considering a push to expand coronavirus testing, looking to South Korea as a role model.

Germany is already carrying out more coronavirus tests than any other European country at a rate of 300,000 to 500,000 a week, according to officials.

But Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government aims to ramp that up to at least 200,000 tests a day, according to an interior ministry document seen by several German media outlets.

On Friday the upper house of Germany’s parliament approved a coronavirus rescue package, green lighting almost €1.1 trillion to shield Europe’s largest economy from the impact of the pandemic, as well as give support to people, businesses and hospital.

Representatives of Germany’s federal states in the Bundesrat rubber stamped the unprecedented measures, which include €156 billion of new borrowing, support for business and the health system, as well as hundreds of billions in guarantees for bank loans to firms.

Already passed by lower house MPs on Wednesday, the package is now expected to kick in from April 1st.

Germany has a mortality rate of around 0.8 percent, compared with around 10 percent in hardest, hit Italy and eight percent in Spain. However, experts say this number is increasing due to a higher incidence of the disease in elderly homes.

But German Health Minister Jens Spahn has warned that the country could face “a storm” of new cases in the weeks ahead.

Contact restrictions

On Sunday, March 22nd a government spokesman announced that German Chancellor Angela Merkel had gone into domestic quarantine after coming into contact with a doctor who has been diagnosed with COVID-19. However, the chancellor is doing well after all three of her tests came back negative.

Merkel was told the news after a press conference during which she announced that gatherings of more than two people will be banned in public in Germany to control the spread of the novel coronavirus.

A full 95 percent of Germans are in support of the new measures, according to a poll conducted Monday by public broadcaster ARD.

“Our own behaviour is the most effective way” of slowing the rate of infection, Merkel said of the unprecedented nationwide measures, which are initially slated to remain in force for two weeks.

On introducing the stricter measures, lawmakers stopped short of ordering a nationwide lockdown.

However some states and towns have introduced stricter measures. Bavaria and Saarland became the first German states to enforce curfews, and the East German state of Saxony now also enforces one.

On Tuesday March 24th, North Rhine-Westphalia became the first German state to reveal fines aimed at those who violate new restrictions.

And on Monday, March 30th, the eastern German city of Jena became the country’s first to make wearing a face mask mandatory.

Merkel made a dramatic appeal to the country on Wednesday March 18th, calling the coronavirus pandemic Germany’s biggest challenge since WWII.

Merkel urged everyone to play a part in slowing down a virus that has raced across the globe and triggered unprecedented peace time lockdowns.

“The situation is serious. Take it seriously,” she said. “Not since German reunification, no, not since the Second World War has our country faced a challenge that depends so much on our collective solidarity.”

The German government announced on Thursday March 19th that it is planning a €40 billion aid package for freelancers and small businesses of up to 10 employees who are affected by the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

Meanwhile, to ramp up medical capacity, German state and federal governments have announced steps to double intensive respiratory care and commandeer new spaces, such as hotels, for treatment.

‘High’ risk

The RKI on Tuesday March 17th raised the risk level from the virus in Germany to “high” and in some regions “very high” up from the “moderate” rating it had given before.

Experts say the actual number of people who’ve contracted the virus but have not been tested, or do not know that they have it, is much higher than the confirmed cases.

The Süddeutsche Zeitung on Tuesday, March 17th, used one method of estimation based on current numbers that found around 100,000 people in Germany could currently have the virus. But because there’s so much uncertainty, this number could actually be much lower or higher.

The RKI said on Wednesday, March 18th, that the virus could ultimately infect up to 10 million people in the next two to three months if government measures are not observed.

What are the other developments?

The first sweeping new restrictions came into place in Germany on Tuesday, March 17th, that resulted in the partial shutdown of public life.

German leaders urged citizens to stay home, as the government announced unprecedented nationwide measures to radically scale back public life in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Merkel called on people in Germany to cancel any holidays at home and abroad, while president Frank Walter Steinmeier told people to “stay at home”.

The government banned gatherings in churches, mosques and synagogues and ordered non-essential shops as well as playgrounds shut.

At a press conference in Berlin, Merkel said that under the new measures, “there shouldn’t be any holiday trips undertaken inside the country or outside it”.

“There have never been measures like this in our country before. They are far-reaching, but at the moment they are necessary.”

The restrictions aimed at “limiting social contact in public places” will leave most sites from museums to swimming pools to gyms shuttered.

But supermarkets, banks and post offices will stay open, as will pharmacies and petrol stations.

Hairdressers, construction supply stores and laundromats will also keep operating, the government said. Restaurants and cafes can stay open, but only until 6pm daily.

Hotels will only be used for “essential and explicitly not for tourist purposes”, the government added.

The state of Bavaria on Monday March 16th declared a ‘disaster situation’ to allow the state’s authorities to push through new restrictions faster, including possibly asking the army for assistance.

Germany has ordered the partial closure of borders with five countries.

Reduced train timetable

Germany’s rail operator Deutsche Bahn scaled back its timetable Germany wide to an “emergency plan” starting Tuesday March 17th.

There will also be no ticket inspectors in a bid to protect their health.

The move was made to accommodate the large number of DB employees who need to stay home with their children, and due to the reduced number of customers using the service.

Self-isolation

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry has urged all recently returned travellers to Germany from Italy, Switzerland and Austria to self-isolate for 14 days on their return, regardless if they have symptoms or not.

Previously, this measure was only for people who had COVID-19 symptoms.

“If you have been in Italy, Switzerland or Austria within the last 14 days avoid unnecessary contact and stay at home for two weeks,” Health Minister Jens Spahn and his ministry wrote on Twitter on Friday night.

This applies “regardless of whether you have symptoms or not”. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Europe is now at the epicentre of the outbreak.

Other borders closing or restricted

Germany’s neighbours, the Czech Republic, Poland and Denmark, already sealed off their borders to foreigners in a bid to limit the spread.

Since Friday March 13th, Germans, Austrians, Swiss and citizens of 12 other high risk countries are no longer allowed to enter the Czech Republic.

Denmark closed its borders on Saturday, March 14th. Switzerland is reintroducing controls at its borders, also with Germany.

The Robert Koch Institute has added Tyrol and Madrid to its list of international risk areas. So far, these already include Italy, Iran, the Chinese province of Hubei, a province in South Korea, and in France Alsace, Lorraine and the Champagne-Ardenne region.

Germany on Friday, March 20th also extended its travel ban until the end of April, also affecting the Easter holidays.

“An urgent request: Please stay home. You will help yourself and others!” tweeted foreign minister Heiko Maas.

Hospitals in Germany will be pushed to limits

German states have decided on an emergency plan to turns hotels and large halls into treatment areas for the coronavirus as needed.

Spahn on Friday March 13th wrote a letter to German hospitals urging them to postpone non-urgent surgeries, put contingency plans in place now, and call in students and retired staff for support.

He warned that the health care system will be pushed “to its limits and beyond” by coronavirus, as shown by what’s happening in Italy.

Merkel had previously warned that up to 70 percent of the German population could eventually contract the virus over time.

She said the main aim was to slow down the spread so as not to burden health services dealing with vulnerable people.

All German states announced school and nursery closures from March 16th.

They shut schools to teachers and pupils until at least after the Easter holidays on April 20th.

The government has called for events with over 1,000 people to be banned, and most German states are enforcing this.

Authorities have called for “social distancing”, urging people to not attend large gatherings and think about what else they can do to limit the spread of coronavirus.

What else should we know?

The German government has provided information on its homepage breaking down the virus and trying to quell fears.

Apart from school closures, several hospitals and workplaces – including for large international companies such as BMW, have been temporarily closed.

Many people, where possible, have also been told to work from home.

Keeping better track of travellers within the country and ensuring easy contact in case of outbreak is what authorities are focusing on, too.

Travellers entering Germany by train or bus will have to give more information about where they plan to stay.

Concerts have been cancelled, events postponed and nightclubs have shut as the country fights coronavirus.

For the first time ever on Tuesday, March 10th, a Bundesliga game was played completely behind closed doors. Now games have been suspended.

How are people in Germany reacting?

People in Germany have been showing their concern through buying up supplies: particularly dried and tinned food, hand sanitiser, toilet roll and face masks.

Supermarkets in Berlin and its neighbouring state of Brandenburg have reported up to a 40 percent increase in profits due to the Hamsterkäfue (or panic buying).

However, authorities say there is no need to panic buy as food and other products will not become scarce.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms are similar to colds and flu, as the virus belongs to the same family, and include cough, headache, fatigue, fever, aching and difficulty breathing.

It is primarily spread through airborne contact or contact with contaminated objects.

Its incubation period is two to 14 days, with an average of seven days. People with any symptoms are being advised to stay at home and try and avoid all social contact.

Important telephone numbers

If you show symptoms, the German government advises against going to a hospital or doctor’s waiting room where others can be infected, and instead recommends self-isolating and try calling a medical hotline.

Although be aware that health workers are extremely busy and it may be difficult to get through. It is likely you will only be tested for coronavirus if there are justified suspicions with symptoms (for example if you have been in contact with someone who is confirmed to have COVID-19).

Doctors will decide whether a diagnosis makes sense after a consultation.

Here are some useful numbers but also check with the local health authority where you live for further information:

The non-emergency medical on-call service for Germany is 116 117. The emergency number is 112.

The independent patient advice service Germany is 0800 011 77 22.

The Ministry of Health number is 030 346 465 100.

Bavaria‘s health ministry has set up a hotline 09131 6808-5101 open Monday-Friday 8 am to 8 pm, and 6 to 8 pm at the weekend.

People in Berlin can contact the hotline: 030 902 828 28 daily from 8am to 8pm and consult an official webpage with up-to date information.

Those living in Brandenburg can contact the hotline 033 186 83777 from 9am to 3pm Monday through Friday.

People in Baden-Württemberg can call the hotline 0711 904-39555 from 9 am to 6 pm every day and has a website providing up-to-date information.

In Hamburg concerned residents can call 040 428 284 000, and it’s available at any time of day.

The state of Hesse has set up a hotline for questions about coronavirus: 0800 555 4666, Monday to Friday from 8am to 8pm.

The North Rhine-Westphalian Ministry of Health has set up a citizens’ number for questions about coronavirus: 0211 855 4774, Monday to Friday from 8am to 6pm.

For Rhineland-Palatinate, the state has set up a hotline for questions: 0800 575 8100, Mondays to Thursdays from 9am to 4pm and Fridays from 9am to 12 noon.

In Thuringia, the State Office for Consumer Protection has a hotline at: 0361 573 815 099, Mondays to Fridays from 9am to noon and from 1.30pm to 3pm.

Residents of Lower Saxony can contact a government hotline at 0511 120 6000 from 8 am to 10 pm Monday through Friday.

The state of Saxony has set up a general coronavirus hotline at 0800 100 0214. It operates Monday through Friday, 7 am to 6 pm, and Saturday and Sunday 12 pm to 6 pm. More hotlines and helpful phone numbers for regions within Saxony can be found here.

In Saxony-Anhalt, the ministry of health has set up a hotline at 0391 2 56 42 22 which can answer questions Monday through Thursday from 9 am to 11 am and 1 pm to 3 pm. The line is also open Fridays from 9 am to 11 am. Up-to-date coronavirus numbers in Saxony-Anhalt are found here.

If you live in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, you can call a hotline at 0385-588 5888, which is open from 9 am to 12 pm and 1 pm to 3 pm, Monday through Thursday. The line is also available Fridays from 9 am to 12 pm. Other useful phone numbers are available here.

Schleswig-Holstein has a line set up for residents at 0431 797 000 01. The state can also answer questions through the e-mail address [email protected].

Saarland has set up a call line at 0681 501 4422 with availability Monday through Friday from 8 am to 9 pm. New hours have just been added on Saturday and Sunday from 9 am to 3 pm.

The city-state of Bremen will answer general questions about coronavirus through a hotline at 0421 115. To answer health-related questions outside of normal office hours, residents can call 116 117 to reach on-call physicians. More information is available here.

How much of a threat is posed by the virus?

For most young people or middle-aged people, the virus is not life-threatening if they are overall healthy. The Robert Koch Institute has said that 80 percent of those who receive it only show mild symptoms.

Most of those who are ill probably only show an infection of the upper respiratory tract, i.e. cold-like symptoms.

However, it is still not completely clear under what conditions the disease changes its stage in some patients. For example, it can cause more severe symptoms when it reaches the lungs. Men are also said to be more likely to be infected than women.

 

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