Hamburg to open restaurants earlier than planned as Covid incidence falls below 50 mark

Hamburg is to allow outdoor dining in restaurants - without a negative coronavirus test - earlier than planned due to a significant drop in the Covid-19 incidence rate.

Hamburg to open restaurants earlier than planned as Covid incidence falls below 50 mark
An outdoor table at a restaurant in Hamburg in May 2020. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christian Charisius

On Tuesday, the city recorded a 7-day incidence of 42.5 Covid-19 infections per 100,000 residents in seven days – below the threshold of 50.

Hamburg, which brought in ’emergency brake’ measures including a curfew ahead of many other parts of Germany, has seen a huge drop in cases in recent weeks.

The 7-day incidence has fallen below the 50 mark for the first time since mid-October 2020, cementing it as one of the regions in Germany with the lowest number of Covid infections.

Mayor of the Hanseatic city, Peter Tschentscher, said outdoor dining in cafes, restaurants and beer gardens will be allowed from Saturday, and non-essential shops will be allowed to open with some restrictions. Originally, the reopening of restaurants was planned for June.

What are the new rules?

For retailers, there will be a limit on the number of customers allowed in a shop, while shoppers must also submit their personal data for contact tracking.

Shoppers do not have to show a negative Covid-19 test as long as the incidence value remains stable below 50. In other parts of Germany where the 7-day incidence remains below 100 Covid cases per 100,000 but above 50, a negative Covid test is mandatory for non-essential shops.

READ ALSO: Where in Europe are Covid curfews and early closures still in place?

The same applies to outdoor catering, where a maximum of five people from two households can sit at one table. Unlike in most other parts of Germany beginning to open up, negative coronavirus tests are not required as long as the 7-day incidence remains stable at below 50.

Furthermore, so-called personal body services, such as beauty salons, and practical driving lessons will be possible again. However, negative coronavirus tests are needed for these services. 

Outdoor swimming pools will also open again with requirements, including negative Covid tests. And up to 20 children can play outdoor sports, while up to 10 adults can play non-contact group sports outdoors.

According to the step-by-step opening plan of the Hamburg government, five people from a maximum of two households will be allowed to meet and socialise from the weekend onwards.

Meanwhile, the mandatory mask requirement in Hamburg’s parks and green spaces will no longer be required. Masks will only be mandatory in areas where a minimum distance can’t be maintained.

Tschentscher said outdoor cultural and sporting events can also take place with fixed seats, an appointment booking, contact tracing and mandatory testing, with a limit of 250 people.

And on May 28th, theatre shows and concerts will be allowed to reopen if Covid numbers remain low.

The city state has taken one of the toughest lines in the Covid-19 pandemic compared to other parts of Germany, with mayor Tschentsher opting for a cautious approach.

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Is the pandemic over in Germany?

As much of Germany lifts - or prepares to lift - the last remaining Covid-19 measures, intensive care units say Covid-19 admissions are no longer straining the system.

Is the pandemic over in Germany?

Despite a difficult winter of respiratory illnesses, intensive care units in Germany say Covid-19 admissions have almost halved. The number of cases having to be treated in the ICU has gone down to 800 from 1,500 at the beginning of this month.

“Corona is no longer a problem in intensive care units,” Gernot Marx, Vice President of the German Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine, told the German Editorial Network. “A the moment, we don’t have to think every day about how to still ensure the care of patients, but how to actually run a service that can help.”

Marx said the drop has allowed them to catch up on many postponed surgeries.

The number of sick employees in hospitals is also falling, helping to relieve the pressure on personnel.

The easing pressure on hospitals correlates with the assessment of prominent virologist and head of the Virology department at Berlin’s Charite – Christian Drosten – who said in December that the pandemic was close to ending, with the winter wave being an endemic one.

German federal and state governments are now in the midst of lifting the last of the country’s pandemic-related restrictions. Free Covid-19 antigen tests for most people, with exceptions for medical personnel, recently ended.

READ ALSO: Free Covid-19 tests end in Germany

Six federal states – Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg, Hessen, Thuringia, Lower Saxony, and Schleswig-Holstein – have ended mandatory isolation periods for people who test positive for Covid-19.

Bavaria, Saxony-Anhalt, and Schleswig-Holstein have ended the requirement to wear FFP2 masks on public transport, while Berlin, Brandenburg, Saxony, Thuringia, and Mecklenburg-West Pomerania will follow suit on February 2nd.

At that time, the federal government will also drop its requirement for masks to be worn on long-distance trains. Labour Minister Hubertus Heil says that’s when he also intends to exempt workplaces – apart from medical locations – from a mask requirement.

READ ALSO: Germany to drop mask mandate in trains and buses from February 2nd

Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg will also end the requirement for patients to wear a mask in doctor’s offices. That’s a requirement that, so far, will stay in place everywhere else. Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach has also said that he thinks this requirement should remain. 

But some public health insurers and general practitioners are calling for a nationwide end to the obligation for wearing masks in doctor’s offices.

“The pandemic situation is over,” National Association of Statutory Health Physicians (KBV) Chair Andreas Gassen told the RND network. “High-risk patients aren’t treated in all practices. It should generally be left up to medical colleagues to decide whether they want to require masks in their practices.”