Germany warns local coronavirus outbreaks are ‘mostly connected with celebrations’

Health Minister Jens Spahn has warned stricter event bans could be put in place in Germany amid a rise in coronavirus outbreaks.

Germany warns local coronavirus outbreaks are 'mostly connected with celebrations'
A restaurant worker cleaning a glass in Bremen. Photo: DPA

Spahn attributed rising cases in Germany to holidaymakers returning to the country. But he said celebrations among people, such as weddings, were also causing problems.

He urged people to only celebrate within a close family circle. “There are more infections in the country due to returning travellers, but there are also local outbreaks, which are mostly connected with celebrations, said Spahn to German broadcaster ZDF on Sunday night.

“This is what we have to keep in mind beyond travel,” the politician, who's a member of Angela Merkel's centre Christian Democrats (CDU), said.

When asked about a possible new lockdown or stricter measures to contain the pandemic, Spahn said that in his view there was no point in closing retail stores or outlets like hairdressers again.

With mandatory face masks and distance rules (1.5 metre from others not in your household) the situation could be managed, he said.

But he stressed how social gatherings were a potential source of danger when it comes to the spread of Covid-19, and there may need to be tougher rules enforced on the size of events across states.

“Celebrations, events – there it (the virus) is transmitted very, very quickly. That's why I think we need to look again with the states: what are the limits, what are the rules for the size of events,” he said.

He said he understood that people wanted to celebrate a wedding, for example, with 100 or 150 guests but warned against people ignoring rules when they come together in a situation like this, which can then lead to outbreaks.

IN NUMBERS – What's the latest on the coronavirus situation in Germany?

“Either we manage to keep the numbers under control, even after the summertime period. Or we will first have to look at the type of events where there is a particular incidence of infection,” said Spahn.

“These are the social events, where people, usually with alcohol, come together accordingly.”

As The Local reported last week, the state of Berlin has been considering tougher rules and even alcohol bans to control the spread. Some states, such as Hamburg and Bavaria, have a ban on serving drinks on streets at particular times of the day.

READ ALSO: Is Germany heading for a second lockdown amid rise in coronavirus cases?

Call for more support to restaurants and bars

Catering industry experts say cracking down on venues selling alcohol is not the way forward.

Ingrid Hartges, managing director of the German Hotel and Restaurant Association (DEHOGA), told broadcaster ARD that the incidence of infections, which can be traced back to the industry, is low.

And Hartges said other meetings and celebrations – such as parties in the streets or in parks – are not the responsibility of bars and restaurants.

She appealed to the industry – but also to guests – to act considerately and responsibly. “It's only if we all consistently adhere to the protection and hygiene measures that we'll be able to prevent a second wave with far-reaching consequences.”

Hartges also called for a plan to provide more government aid to hard-hit businesses.

“We have to start thinking very specifically now about how we can extend the aid programme until the end of the year – at least for the companies that are particularly in need,” she said.

She also called for an extension of the shorter working hours (Kurzarbeit) allowance and a change in the law on rent and leases in order to help the companies.

Hundreds of new infections

On Sunday health authorities in Germany reported 625 new infections within 24 hours, according to the Robert Koch Institute.

However on the previous two days, the RKI reported more than 1,400 new infections on both days. The numbers are often lower on Sundays and Mondays, because not all health authorities transmit data to the RKI on weekends.

Since the beginning of the crisis, at least 224,014 people in Germany are confirmed to have contracted Covid-19 and around 9,232  people have died.

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Munich sees sharp rise in Covid cases after Oktoberfest

Since the start of Germany’s Oktoberfest, the incidence of Covid infections in Munich has risen sharply. Though a connection with the festival can’t yet be proven, it seems likely.

Munich sees sharp rise in Covid cases after Oktoberfest

Two weeks after the start of Oktoberfest, the Covid numbers in Munich have more than tripled.

On Sunday, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported an incidence of 768.7 for the city of Munich, though updated figures for the end of the festival are not expected until later in the week. Usually, on weekends and public holidays, there is a delay in reports.

In the entire state of Bavaria, the incidence value on Sunday was 692.5.

According to Munich’s public health officer, Beatrix Zurek, bed occupancy in Munich hospitals has also increased. Two weeks ago, 200 beds in Munich were occupied by Covid patients, whereas there are now around 350.

Though a relationship between the sharp rise in infections with Oktoberfest, which ended on Monday, can’t be proven at the moment, it seems very likely, according to experts. A significant increase in Covid incidences has also been shown at other public festivals – about one and a half weeks after the start. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s famed Oktoberfest opens after two-year pandemic hiatus

After a two-year break due to the pandemic, around 5.7 million visitors came to this year’s Wiesn according to the festival management – around 600,000 fewer than at the last Oktoberfest before the pandemic in 2019, when there were 6.3 million.

Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) took to Twitter to comment on the rise in incidence in Munich during the Oktoberfest. “This would not have been necessary if self-tests had been taken before admission,” he said.

“Compared to the price of a measure of beer, €2-3 (for tests) wouldn’t have mattered,” he said.

Even before the start of the Wiesn, he had spoken out in favour of people taking voluntary self-tests. Lauterbach stressed that now is the time for special measures against Covid.

“The development shows what will happen if the states wait too long with the mask obligation in indoor areas,” he added.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Germany’s new Covid-19 rules from October

In neighbouring counties, where many Oktoberfest visitors came from, the number of Covid cases has also risen noticeably.  Beatrix Zurek said that it is unclear, however, how much of a role Oktoberfest played in these figures, as people are currently much more active socially overall, with concerts and other events also taking place throughout the state.

Christoph Spinner, an infections specialist at Munich’s Klinikum, has urged people not to be alarmed by the rising numbers.

“We had expected rising incidences here. We knew that there could be a doubling, tripling, even quadrupling,” he said.

He said that this is no cause for concern, as many people have been vaccinated or have also recovered from previous Covid infections, so any new infections are therefore usually mild.

The virologist advises people over 60 or with pre-existing conditions to get a second booster vaccination, but otherwise said people shouldn’t be alarmed by the rising incidences.