COVID-19 pandemic in Germany
The COVID-19 pandemic in Germany is part of the ongoing worldwide pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). On 27 January 2020, the first case in Germany was confirmed near Munich, Bavaria. By mid February, the arising cluster of cases had been fully contained. On 25 and 26 February, multiple cases related to the Italian outbreak were detected in Baden-Württemberg. A large cluster linked to a carnival event was formed in Heinsberg, North Rhine-Westphalia; on 9 March 2020, the first two deaths in Germany were reported from Essen and Heinsberg. New clusters were introduced in other regions via Heinsberg as well as via people arriving from China, Iran and Italy, from where non-Germans could arrive by plane until 17–18 March. From 13 March, German states mandated school and kindergarten closures, postponed academic semesters and prohibited visits to nursing homes to protect the elderly. Two days later, borders to Austria, Denmark, France, Luxembourg and Switzerland were closed. By 22 March, curfews were imposed in six German states while other states prohibited physical contact with more than one person from outside one's household.
|COVID-19 pandemic in Germany|
|First outbreak||Wuhan, Hubei, China|
|Arrival date||27 January 2020|
(1 year, 4 months and 4 weeks)
On 15 April, Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke of "fragile intermediate success" that had been achieved in the fight against the pandemic. The same day, a first loosening of restrictions was announced, continued in early May, and eventually, holiday travels were allowed in cooperation with other European countries. A number of state premiers pressed for faster relaxation of restrictions, putting them at odds with Merkel, who favoured a more cautious approach. Substantial local outbreaks in meat processing plants drew public attention beyond the epidemiological context to poor working conditions. By late August, infection numbers had returned to the levels of April, and a possible second wave of the pandemic was under debate. By mid October, it was believed by experts to be inevitable. A partial lockdown from 2 November, in which physical distancing rules were tightened while schools and kindergartens remained open, only temporarily halted the rise in case numbers; the total number of reported infections since the start of the pandemic crossed one million on 27 November. A hard lockdown was imposed on 15 December and extended several times, introducing movement restrictions for hard-hit districts, and later making FFP2 masks or other clinical masks mandatory on public transport and in shops. These extensions were mainly motivated by uncertainties associated with the appearance of variant Alpha and other mutations. Death rates in nursing homes remained high until late January but dropped strongly in February, which was considered to be likely the result of residents and workers at these facilities having been prioritised in the vaccination campaign. On 10 February, the lockdown was extended until 7 March, and a gradual reopening of schools and daycare centres was agreed. A five-step plan was agreed on 3 March to end the second lockdown, from 1 March to 5 April 2021. On 24 March, the partial lockdown was extended until at least 18 April 2021. With the arrival of the third pandemic wave driven by variants, and an initially slow progress of vaccinations, a reform of the Infection Protection Act in late April increased federal government powers, allowing it to mandate pandemic measures in hard-hit districts from 24 April. Vaccinations accelerated in April, with a total of 15 million shots given that month, surpassing the total of the period from January to March. On 6 May, the AstraZeneca vaccine was made available to all adults. Health Minister Jens Spahn said on 7 May that the third wave of the pandemic appeared to be broken, but cautioned against a hasty retraction of restrictions.
Vaccinations with the Pfizer–BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine began on 27 December 2020 (unofficially one day earlier); vaccinations with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, the AstraZeneca vaccine and the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine began in mid January, early February, and mid March 2021 respectively. On 16 March 2021, AstraZeneca vaccinations were stalled nationwide because of uncertain side effects and uncertain deaths of several people in the days after receiving it. Vaccinations with AstraZeneca resumed on 19 March after the European Medicines Agency deemed the vaccine "safe and effective"; On 30 March, German vaccination commission STIKO recommended limiting the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine to those aged 60 or over, but revised this on 22 April to allow for use in younger ages, subject to their consent to medical advice about the risks. After a slow start, vaccinations accelerated in April, with a total of 15 million shots given that month, surpassing the total of the period from January to March. On 6 May, the AstraZeneca vaccine was made available to all adults, with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine following on 10 May. As of 21 June 2021[update], the RKI reported that 50.8 per cent of the total population have received at least their first vaccination dose (which for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and for those recovered is sufficient), and 31.1 per cent had completed their vaccination.
As of 21 June 2021[update], the RKI has officially reported 3,722,327 cases, 90,395 deaths, and approximately 3,605,200 recoveries. The country's low fatality rate in the first and the onset of the second wave of the pandemic, compared to fatality rates in Italy and Spain, has generated a discussion and explanations that cite the country's higher number of tests performed, higher number of available intensive care beds with respiratory support and higher proportion of positive cases among younger people. The serious worsening of infection and death numbers in November and December 2020, which largely failed to raise a sense of alarm in the public, and frequent breaches of physical distancing rules led to a perception that Germany's status as a worldwide role model in fighting the pandemic had diminished. The September 2021 federal and numerous state elections were suggested as an additional hindrance in combating the second wave earlier and more decisively. The decision by the German parliament on 6 May 2021 to lift most pandemic restrictions for the fully vaccinated and previously infected, which effectively created a two-tier system, met with criticism by some of those who still had to wait for their vaccination shot under the regulations, such as teenagers.
On 12 January 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed that a novel coronavirus was the cause of a respiratory illness in a cluster of people in Wuhan, Hubei, China, which was reported to the WHO on 31 December 2019.
Infection Protection Act
In the implementation of federal and state guidelines to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, the Infection Protection Act (Infektionsschutzgesetz, IfSG) has played a central role. Enacted in 2000, the IfSG authorises state governments to issue regulations to control communicable diseases, and to order protective measures including quarantine, thus granting them considerable power in relation to the federal government, whose primary task is to coordinate the measures taken. During the pandemic, pressure by state premiers repeatedly forced Chancellor Merkel to soften anti-pandemic measures.
In March 2020, the federal government drafted a change to the IfSG to allow the federal government more power over the federal states. Among others it would allow the health ministry to prohibit border crossings, track the contacts of infected persons and enlist doctors, medicine students and other health care workers in the efforts against an infectious disease. A condition for use of the additional powers is the determination of an epidemic situation of national significance (de:Epidemische Lage von nationaler Tragweite) by the German Bundestag. The Bundestag made this determination on 25 March, the same day it approved the amendments to the IfSG. The amendments became law on 27 March.
On 18 November 2020, a reform of the IfSG which had been proposed by the ruling Grand Coalition of CDU/CSU and Social Democratic Party of Germany was passed in the Bundestag with 415 votes in favour, 236 against, and eight abstentions. The regulations of the law include a specification of the scope of measures which may be taken by individual states to combat a health emergency such as the current pandemic, with regard to social restrictions, the requirement to wear a nose-mouth covering, the temporary closure of shops, and the cancellation of mass events. The purpose of the law was to put measures that had been previously enacted by decree on a more firm legal basis that would prevent legal challenges. It also addressed complaints from across the political spectrum who had criticised the diminished role of the parliament in the preceding months.
A further revision of the IfSG came into force on 22 April 2021, allowing the federal government to mandate curfews from 24 April (see section April 2021 below).
National Pandemic Plan
Germany has a common National Pandemic Plan, which describes the responsibilities and measures of the health care system actors in case of a huge epidemic. Epidemic control is executed both by the federal authorities such as Robert Koch Institute and by the German states. The German states have their own epidemic plans. On 4 March, the RKI published an extension of the national plan, which it had produced in collaboration with several other entities, for the handling of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Four major targets are included in this plan:
- Reduce morbidity and mortality
- Ensure treatment of infected persons
- Upkeep of essential public services
- Reliable and accurate information for decision-makers, medical professionals, media and public
The plan has three stages, which might eventually overlap due to regional differences in the evolution of the pandemic:
- Containment (circumstances of dedicated cases and clusters)
- Protection (circumstances of further spreading infections and unknown sources of infections)
- Mitigation (circumstances of widespread infections)
In the containment stage health authorities are focusing on identifying contact persons who are put in personal quarantine and are monitored and tested. Personal quarantine is overseen by the local health agencies. By doing so, authorities are trying to keep infection chains short, leading to curtailed clusters. As of 4 March 2020, the pandemic was managed in the containment stage. In the protection stage the strategy will change to using direct measures to protect vulnerable persons from becoming infected. The mitigation stage will eventually try to avoid spikes of intensive treatment in order to maintain medical services.
Criticism over slow procurement of protective materials
As early as January 2020, the German Bundestag was fully informed about the dangers of the global spread of a coronavirus pandemic. A risk analysis predicted how dangerous a global coronavirus outbreak could be. It stated that "children [...] have [...] minor disease progressions" and that the risk of death of "over-65-year-olds [is] at 50%". It further stated that a "vaccine" is "unavailable", so all the more important is the "use of protective equipment such as protective masks, goggles and gloves". But until 24 March, the Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance (BBK) had never set up appropriate stores or had talks with manufacturers and suppliers to prepare for such a situation, was the criticism of some experts.
Timeline by state
On 25 February, a 25-year-old man from Göppingen, Baden-Württemberg, who had recently returned from Milan, Italy, tested positive and was treated in Klinik am Eichert. On 26 February, Baden-Württemberg confirmed three new cases. The 24-year-old girlfriend of the 25-year-old man from Göppingen and her 60-year-old father, who worked as a chief physician at University Hospital Tübingen, tested positive and were admitted to the same hospital in Tübingen. A 32-year-old man from Rottweil, Baden-Württemberg, who had visited Codogno, Italy with his family on 23 February, tested positive and was admitted to a hospital for isolation.
On 27 February, Baden-Württemberg confirmed four new cases, for a total of eight cases in the region. Two women and a man from Breisgau-Hochschwarzwald and Freiburg, respectively, tested positive. They had had contact with an Italian participant at a business meeting in Munich; he was subsequently tested positive in Italy. A man from the district of Böblingen, who had had contact with the travel companion of the patient from Göppingen, also tested positive.
On 28 February, Baden-Württemberg confirmed five new cases, bringing the total number of cases in the state to thirteen. A man from Ludwigsburg with flu symptoms who had tested negative for influenza virus was automatically tested for SARS-CoV-2 and confirmed positive. A man from Rhine-Neckar returning from a short ski holiday with mild cold symptoms checked himself in to the emergency department of the University Hospital Heidelberg and tested positive. A 32-year-old man in Heilbronn tested positive and was admitted to a hospital. He had been in Milan on 21 February and fallen ill with flu symptoms on 23 February. A man from Nuremberg who was in Karlsruhe on business was admitted to the Karlsruhe City Hospital after testing positive. His family in Nuremberg was also ill with respiratory symptoms. A man from Breisgau who had travelled to Bergamo, Italy also tested positive and underwent isolation.
After the ease of lockdown, a group of Germans who had been working in China was allowed to return. On arrival in Tianjin on 29 May 2020, Chinese authorities tested a 34-year-old engineer from Blaustein positive for the coronavirus. A test on departure in Frankfurt had shown no infection.
In late July, a cluster of new infections emerged around a religious group in Steinsfurt. Among the 105 members of a Romanian evangelistic movement, 40 tested positive for the virus on 28 July 2020, of whom 20 resided in the Rhein-Neckar-Kreis. Some 77 other individuals were wanted for testing, but did not respond or had left Germany on vacation when local authorities started the investigation. By 5 August, the number of active cases in Rhein-Neckar-Kreis had dropped from 20 to 4, with authorities judging that the outbreak had been contained within the community.
On 27 January 2020, the Bavarian Ministry of Health announced that a 52-year-old employee of Webasto, a German car parts supplier at Starnberg, Bavaria had tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. He contracted the infection from a Chinese colleague who had received a visit in Shanghai from her parents from Wuhan. His was the first known case of a person contracting the virus outside of China from a non-relative – the first known transmission of the virus outside China being father to son in Vietnam.
On 28 January, three more cases were confirmed, a 27-year-old and a 40-year-old man as well as a 33-year-old woman. All three were also employees of Webasto. They were monitored and quarantined at the München Hospital in Schwabing.
On 30 January, a man from Siegsdorf who worked for the same company tested positive; on 31 January and 3 February respectively, both his children tested positive. His wife also tested positive on 6 February. A 52-year-old Webasto employee from Fürstenfeldbruck tested positive.
On 1 February, a 33-year-old Webasto employee living in Munich tested positive. On 3 February, another employee was confirmed positive. On 7 February, the wife of a previously diagnosed man tested positive. On 11 February, a 49-year-old Webasto employee tested positive, as did a family member of a previously diagnosed employee.
According to reconstruction analysis published in September 2020, the outbreak at Webasto had not seeded the COVID-19 outbreak in Italy, with the evidence pointing instead to the latter outbreak having been initiated by cases imported directly from China.
On 8 March, an 83-year-old resident of the St. Nikolaus home of the elderly in Würzburg was brought into hospital and died four days later diagnosed with COVID-19, becoming the first reported death of the virus in Bavaria. By 27 March, ten more residents of the St. Nikolaus home of the elderly had also died of the virus and 44 residents and 32 employees tested positive. The residency complained about a lack of personnel and protective equipment.
On 12 August 2020, Bavarian health authorities admitted that they had not yet informed over 44,000 returning travellers about the results of their COVID-19 tests, mostly taken at mobile testing centres at highways. It was believed that there had been over 900 positive cases among these. The government explained the glitch with missing software and an unexpected large number of volunteers tested. Health Minister Melanie Huml reportedly offered her resignation to premier Soeder, whose decision to leave her in office was met with sharp criticism by the parliamentary opposition. In January 2021, Huml was moved to a position in the Bavarian State Chancellery.
From 18 January 2021, pursuant to a 12 January decision, Bavaria made the wearing of FFP2 masks mandatory on public transport and in supermarkets, excepting bus drivers, ticket inspectors, and children aged up to 14 years. The new rule would not be policed until 24 January. The Bavarian government said it would provide masks free of charge to low-income groups and social welfare recipients.
The first case detected in the capital, Berlin, was reported on 2 March 2020. On 17 March, the government of Berlin announced plans to open a 1,000-bed hospital for COVID-19 patients on the grounds of Messe Berlin in the Westend locality of Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf. The hospital opened on 11 May 2020.
Hamburg's first case, a male paediatric member of staff at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, was confirmed on 27 February. As of 15 March 2020[update], there are 196 active cases.
On 28 February, Hesse officials confirmed three new cases in Lahn-Dill, Hochtaunuskreis and Giessen. The cases in Lahn-Dill and Giessen were linked to the cluster in NRW, and the case in Hochtaunuskreis to the one in Lahn-Dill.
After the ease of lockdown for religious groups on 1 May, a church service on 10 May in Frankfurt led to a cluster that grew to 112 cases by 25 May. The service was later determined to have breached several regulations, including those that the major churches had given themselves. The church evaded penalties through participation in a study by the RKI, whose scientists had expressed great interest in studying the outbreak in detail. All of the infected had recovered by 24 June.
On 1 March 2020, Lower Saxony reported its first case. After the ease of lockdown in early May 2020 about 40 people met on 15 May for a private party in a restaurant in Moormerland. By 24 May at least 10 of the participants had tested positive and quarantine was ordered for 70 people.
On 31 May 2020, a new cluster with 36 confirmed infections was reported in Göttingen. The local authorities checked Hookah lounges to find the source of the infections. Mayor Rolf-Georg Köhler informed the public on 2 June that the cluster originated in Eid al-Fitr celebrations by several families on 23 May where social distancing rules had been ignored. On 4 June 2020, the city reported 86 infections from the cluster and some 216 people had been ordered in quarantine. All schools were closed again and all contact and team sports were prohibited for 2 weeks.
On 25 February, a 47-year-old man tested positive in Erkelenz, Heinsberg at North Rhine-Westphalia. He had been previously treated at University Hospital of Cologne on 13 and 19 February for a pre-existing medical condition. 41 medical staff members and patients were identified to have had contact with him at the hospital; one person from medical staff showed symptoms and tested positive for SARS-CoV-2.
On 27 February, Heinsberg confirmed fourteen new cases: nine from Gangelt, two from Selfkant, one from the city of Heinsberg, one from Düsseldorf and one from Herzogenrath. Multiple cases were linked to the Gangelter Carnival. All of them were placed in home isolation. This brought the current total to twenty in the district. A medical doctor in Mönchengladbach tested positive and was quarantined at home. He had attended the same carnival event in Gangelt.
On 28 February, Aachen confirmed the first COVID-19 case in the region, a woman from Herzogenrath (Aachen district), who had attended the carnival event in Gangelt on 15 February and underwent home isolation. Heinsberg confirmed 17 new cases, bringing the current total to 37 cases in the district.
On 29 February, the number of confirmed cases in Heinsberg rose to sixty. Additionally, one case was confirmed in Bonn, three more in the Aachen district (one in Aachen and two in Würselen), and one in Lüdenscheid. Cologne, Mönchengladbach and Duisburg also each reported two cases. The first cases in Münster were confirmed.
On 5 March 195 cases were confirmed by laboratory test in Heinsberg. The local authorities announced that all schools, kindergartens, daycare facilities and interdisciplinary early intervention centres would remain closed until at least 15 March 2020. Six people tested positive in Münster. Four were pupils at Marienschule, one was a child under care in "Outlaw-Kita" day care centre in Hiltrup, and the sixth was a resident of Coesfeld, working at Landschaftsverband Westfalen-Lippe in Münster. The school and the day care centre were closed as a precaution.
On 6 March, confirmed cases in Heinsberg rose to 220. A mobile medical care unit was deployed in Gangelt-Birgden. Bochum's second case was confirmed, after the wife of the city's first confirmed case also tested positive.
On 8 March, the count of cases in the state rose to 484. Of these, 277 were in Heinsberg. Bochum recorded its fourth case after a woman tested positive after returning from a holiday in South Tyrol, Italy. She went into quarantine at home. A 44-year-old Münster resident tested positive and underwent quarantine with his family. Düsseldorf confirmed its fourth case, a man who had contact with individuals in Heinsberg. All cases in Düsseldorf were reported to be asymptomatic, or with mild symptoms. There were six new infections in Erkrath, Mettmann district. An additional three people were infected with the virus in Bergkamen, Unna district. They are believed to have come into contact with an infected person during a visit to Hamburg.
On 11 March, the number of positive cases in North Rhine-Westphalia increased to 801, including three deaths.
On 13 March, all schools and kindergartens were closed by the government of NRW.
In September, the city of Hamm became a hotspot after the obligation to wear masks and to keep distance had been ignored at three events with some 500 guests surrounding a Turkish wedding in early September. By 24 September, some 179 individuals from that wedding were described as "acute infected" by the local government. The number of infections per 100,000 citizens rose to 100 and new restrictions were introduced: Masks would have to be worn in schools for upper secondary education, events with more than 25 people would have to file an application and with 50 up to 150 participants, a concept for infection prevention would be required. On 6 October some 300 infected were linked to the wedding, some of them in the 3rd or 4th generation.
In October, the city of Cologne presented its #diesmalnicht (English: #notthistime) campaign discouraging gatherings, parades and similar hazardous behaviour for the commencement of the Cologne Carnival at 11:11 a.m. on 11 November 2020. Mayor of Cologne Henriette Reker announced that there would be a ban on the sale and consumption of alcohol outside of restaurants and pubs on 11 November 2020, with many establishments voluntarily remaining closed or not selling alcohol on that date.
On 26 February, a 41-year-old soldier who worked in Cologne-Wahn military airport and had attended a carnival event in Gangelt with the 47-year-old patient from North Rhine-Westphalia was admitted to Bundeswehr Central Hospital, Koblenz, the first case in Rhineland-Palatinate.
On 10 March 2020, Saxony-Anhalt reported eight confirmed cases of COVID-19, making it the last federal state to be affected by the disease. As of 26 March, the subdivisions of Jessen and Schweinitz in the municipality of Jessen (Elster) are under quarantine, with no one apart from emergency workers allowed in or out. The cause is reported to be an increased number of COVID-19 infections in a retirement home there.
Repatriated German citizens
Criteria for the adjustment of measures
At a videoconference of Chancellor Merkel and the 16 state governors on 6 May 2020, when relaxations of pandemic measures were agreed as a result of the easing of the first wave of the pandemic, state governments were authorised to reimpose restrictions immediately in case of a new wave of cases reaching 50 per 100,000 people within 7 days in a locality ("seven-day incidence"). This measure, billed as "emergency brake", was intended to allow quick action against local outbreaks before the entire country would be affected. Starting from 14 September 2020, the RKI reported on the front page of its daily updates the countrywide 7-day incidence – that is the number of cases per 100,000 people within 7 days – as well as the number of districts with a 7-day incidence above 50; from 2 October 2020, the incidence was shown separately for those aged 60 and over, and from 28 December, also separately for those aged 80 and over. When imposing the new lockdown in response to the second wave in early November, the government stated that its goal was to reduce the 7-day incidence to about 50, so that contact tracing would again be possible. Other thresholds of the 7-day incidence also played a key role in measures taken locally; in the January 2021 extension and toughening of the measures to counter the second wave of the pandemic, a 7-day incidence of 200 triggered a travel ban for the affected district.
Before the adoption of the 7-day incidence as a key indicator, a major role in the public debate about whether and when the social distancing measures introduced in March 2020 could be relaxed was played by the effective reproduction number R. In its daily bulletins of 26–28 April 2020, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) estimated the value of R as 0.9, 1.0, and 0.9 respectively; it had been as low as 0.7 in mid-April. On 28 April, RKI president Wieler clarified that the 27 April value had been rounded up from a value of 0.96. The respective upper end-points of the confidence intervals (at the 95 per cent level) for the estimates of R were 1.1, 1.1, and 1.0.
At the 28 April press conference, Wieler also warned of pinning too many expectations on a single indicator such as R, as this was "only one index among many". He appealed to the public to apply physical distancing even as the federal and state governments began to relax restrictions on social movement, to "preserve" the success that had been achieved to date in the fighting the pandemic.
The R value again became the subject of increased public attention in the country in December 2020, with a surge in cases of a mutant coronavirus strain from the United Kingdom. The risk from higher transmission rates were stated by the government as a main reason for the toughening of pandemic restrictions in January 2021. On 20 April 2021, epidemiologist Lauterbach said that the majority of experts agreed that nightly curfews would reduce the R value by 10 to 20 per cent.
Some experts were critical of the role of the 7-day incidence in pandemic policymaking; in an April 2021 interview, epidemiologist Gérard Krause of the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) criticised the incidence for being neither differentiating between age groups nor regarding severity of the disease, and suggested that the revision of the Infection Protection Act instead be based on the admissions to intensive care.
On 22 January 2020, the German government considered the spread of COVID-19 as a "very low health risk" for Germans and the virus in general as "far less dangerous" than SARS. New travel advisories would not be necessary.
On 27 January, after the first infections in Germany, the government continued to regard the probability of a spread as "very low". Even if individual cases emerged, authorities would be able to treat them.
At a press conference on 28 January, the Federal Minister of Health, Jens Spahn, stated that he was only worrying about conspiracy theories that were circulating on the Internet, and that the Federal Government would counter this problem through full transparency. Hotlines were established to calm down worried callers. After a case was suspected in a Lufthansa plane, the company suspended all flights to China.
On 29 January, reports surged that masks were sold out. The government ordered pilots of flights from China to describe the health status of their passengers and ordered passengers to fill in a contact document. The government and health authorities expected more isolated cases but were confident to prevent further spread.
On 1 February, German Health Minister Spahn warned that people infected with the Coronavirus and their contacts might be stigmatised and be socially excluded. He emphasised that the Germans evacuated from China would all be healthy.
On 13 February, at a meeting of EU Health Ministers, German Health Minister Spahn dismissed travel restrictions from or to China by single member states. He decidedly rejected measuring the temperature of inbound travellers.
On 18 February, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas had 8.4 tons of protective gear and clothing as well as disinfectants sent to China. This was the second shipment after Germany had sent 5.4 tons of it to China during the evacuation of the Germans.
On 25 February, NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe, Tod D. Wolters, was asked by senators if there were plans for restricting U.S. troop travel to other countries apart from Italy. He pointed to Germany as a potential candidate. AfD politician Alice Weidel demanded closing borders in Europe.
On 26 February, following the confirmation of multiple COVID-19 cases in North Rhine-Westphalia, Heinsberg initiated closure of schools, swimming pools, libraries and the town hall until 2 March. Games and training for FC Wegberg-Beeck were suspended. The international German Open Badminton in Mülheim was cancelled. The Cologne-Wahn military airport was temporarily closed. The German government opted not to implement travel restrictions on Italy over the coronavirus pandemic there. It also considered itself "far from" issuing a travel warning for the country, which would have enabled free cancellation of trips.
On 28 February, Germany first entered the top ten of countries that had the highest number of coronavirus infections as number nine, in Europe second only to Italy. ITB Berlin was cancelled by its organisers. Heinsberg extended closure of daycare facilities and schools to 6 March. The officials imposed a 14-day home isolation for people who had had direct contacts with individuals in the current cases as well as people who showed flu symptoms. Lufthansa cut the number of short- and medium-haul flights by up to 25%, and removed multiple long-haul routes resulting in 23 long-haul aircraft being taken out of operation. On the same day, Germany enacted new health security measures to include regulations for air and sea travel, requiring passengers from China, South Korea, Japan, Italy and Iran to report their health status before entry. Train railway companies must report passengers with symptoms to authorities and the federal police would step up checks within 30 kilometres of the border. The government also declared it would prepare a central acquisition of protection masks and suits to create a reserve, that not all events should be cancelled and that its crisis team would from then on meet twice a week.
On 29 February, it was reported that supermarket chains, such as Aldi and Lidl, had seen an increase in demand, particularly for tinned food, noodles, toilet paper (whose sales rose by 700% from February to March) and disinfectants. The Ministry of Health of North Rhine-Westphalia advised against panic buying, especially of masks, medications and disinfectants, to leave them for those really in need, assuring there would be no shortage of supply even in the event of a quarantine. A day earlier, after recent drastic price hikes and shortages especially of masks, medications and disinfectants which were the result of a steep increase in demand, calls had been made to consumers to leave these products for hospitals and medical practices.
On 1 March, the number of confirmed infections almost doubled within one day. German Interior Minister, Horst Seehofer, expressed his optimism that a vaccine would be available by the end of the year. The Finance Minister, Olaf Scholz, stated that the government was prepared for a stimulus package to mitigate the economical impact. The Health Minister, Jens Spahn, recommended that people with symptoms of a cold should avoid mass events.
On 2 March, the German Robert Koch Institute raised its threat level for Germany to "moderate" and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control raised its threat level for Europe from "moderate" to "high". The German Health Minister dismissed the closure of borders or companies or ending large events or direct flights between China and Germany as unnecessary or inappropriate. Germany sent lab equipment, protection suits, and gloves for the coronavirus in Iran.
On 3 March, the German National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians, the Bavarian State Chamber of Medicine, the Bavarian Association of Paediatricians, and the Association of General Practitioners of Berlin and Brandenburg reported a lack of protection gear to handle COVID-19 cases. The Leipzig Book Fair cancelled the exhibition planned for mid-March. Markus Söder, Minister President of Bavaria and leader of the CSU, and the German Minister for Economics, Peter Altmaier, pushed for financial help for companies affected by the virus.
On 4 March, the crisis team considered the acquisition of more protection gear as an "extraordinary urgency". Germany prohibited the export of protection masks, gloves, and suits. North Rhine-Westphalia declared to order one million masks. A parliamentary discussion took place. The Health Minister, Spahn, warned that the consequences of fear could be far worse than the virus itself. Spokespersons of Greens and FDP praised the government for its management of the crisis. AfD leader Weidel disagreed and also proposed measuring fever at airports. SPD health policymaker Bärbel Bas stated that measuring fever made no sense because not every infected person has a fever. Israel ordered a 14-day quarantine for all travellers from Germany and four other European countries.
To address the severe shortage of hand disinfectants, the Federal Agency for Chemicals within the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health issued a general decree on 4 March which allowed pharmacies and pharmaceutical companies to produce and sell products based on isopropyl alcohol for this purpose.
On 5 March, the German Federal Office for Citizen Protection and Disaster Support (BBK) stated that the spread in Germany was "no catastrophe" and that citizens should prepare for real catastrophes instead. The leader of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom, expressed concern that some countries showed an unwillingness to act or gave up. He admonished all countries to raise their commitment to the level of the threat.
On 6 March, the German Health Minister Spahn ruled out "any measure leading to restrictions on travel" within the European Union and spoke out against closing all schools and universities in Germany. Spahn recommended not to make unnecessary travels and suggested people coming from risk areas should stay at home. Spahn participated in a meeting with the other European Health Ministers to discuss the crisis. The EU and Robert Koch Institute emphasised that masks and disinfectants should not be used by healthy private persons.
In March, Germany banned prostitution for the duration of the pandemic.
On 8 March, the German Health Minister recommended to cancel events of more than 1000 attendees for the time being. The Deutsche Fußball Liga announced it would continue the season of its soccer leagues until its regular end in mid-May. Poland announced random temperature checks for bus passengers from Germany near a border crossing starting the next day.
On 9 March, Germany reported the first deaths. The number of COVID-19 infections had nearly doubled to more than 1200 within the last few days, which put pressure on the government to act. Angela Merkel's administration announced measures to cushion the economic blow. Merkel, who had publicly kept a low profile regarding the outbreak, emphasised it was important to slow down the spread and buy time. The government's spokesman, Steffen Seibert, stated that citizens could be "confident that the whole Federal Government, with the Chancellor at the helm, is doing everything possible to contain the spread of this virus". The Health Minister emphasised the responsibility of each individual to slow down spread and ruled out preemptive closing of daycare centres or schools.
On 10 March, Chancellor Merkel announced that between 60 and 70 per cent of Germans would get the virus, an estimate already made nine days earlier by the head virologist of the Charité, Christian Drosten. In reaction to a general ban on events with more than 1,000 participants put into immediate effect, Germany's Ice Hockey league DEL announced immediate cancellation of the 2019–2020 season, and that the championship title would remain vacant. Several matches of the soccer leagues, including Bundesliga derbies would be played behind closed doors, a first in the 57-year history of the Bundesliga. Berlin mayor Michael Müller (SPD) disagreed and stated that mass events should not be cancelled preemptively and expected the sold-out soccer match between Union Berlin and FC Bayern Munich on 14 March not to be behind closed doors.
On 11 March, having faced accusations of inaction the previous days, Merkel took the unusual step of dedicating an entire press conference on the topic of the COVID-19 crisis. She emphasised "We will do the necessary, as a country and in the European Union". She announced liquidity support for companies, especially via the German development bank KfW, to be realised before the week was over. She insisted again on not closing borders. Merkel recommended everyone avoid shaking hands, for example by looking a second longer and smiling instead. The German health minister added that mouth protection and disinfectants were needless for individuals and that it was enough to wash hands with soap rigorously. Shops noted a great increase in demand for provisions and sanitary products. The first member of the Bundestag to be tested positive was FDP politician Hagen Reinhold. Several members of the Bundestag for the SPD were placed under quarantine, including epidemiologist and Member of Parliament Karl Lauterbach, after attending a meeting on 2 March with a staff member of the German Ministry of Justice later testing positive for coronavirus.
On 12 March, U.S. President Trump announced (actually on 11 March 21:00 EDT local time) a 30-day travel ban for foreigners who travelled from Schengen area states, including Germany, effective 13 March 23:59 EDT. German foreign politicians were caught by surprise by the travel ban and criticised that it was not coordinated with them. They complained that the United Kingdom was not included. Although neighbouring countries had already closed schools, German Minister of Education Anja Karliczek rejected a nationwide closure of schools, while stating that the decision would need to be re-assessed daily as the pandemic evolved. The Kultusministerkonferenz debated whether the virus could threaten the upcoming Abitur school-leaving examination. Its director, Stefanie Hubig, decided the oral examinations in Rhineland-Palatinate between 16 and 25 March would take place according to plan. She also recommended cancelling class trips to risk areas.
On 13 March 14 of the 16 German federal states decided to close their schools and nurseries for the next few weeks. Germany's neighbours Czech Republic, Poland and Denmark closed their borders. Germany rushed to order 10,000 ventilators from Drägerwerk for intensive respiratory care, twice the order size of Italy and equivalent to the production of a whole year. Germany entered talks for softening its export stop of protective gear for other European Union states. The government decided to give financial support to artists, private cultural institutions and event companies that struggle in the crisis. Scholz and Altmeier assured unlimited credits to all companies of any size. Bundesliga announced that all soccer matches would be postponed until at least 2 April.
On 14 March, the number of confirmed infections had increased to 4,585, including nine fatalities. Several federal states widened their measures to limit public activities. For example, Berlin, Schleswig-Holstein and Saarland closed bars among other leisure venues. Cologne forbid all events in the city centre. An FDP member of Bundestag, Thomas Sattelberger, went public on Twitter that he was infected. He also criticised a video created by Germany's largest public broadcaster, ARD which had satirically portrayed COVID-19 as a boon through preferentially killing the old in the developed world, who ruined the planet with global warming and turbocapitalism. The authors of the video later apologised for hurting feelings and defended their work stressing it was a satire using exaggeration.
On 15 March, local elections in Bavaria took place amid the crisis. Many election workers dropped out so that the elections were "acutely threatened" and teachers had to be conscripted on one day's notice. German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer announced the closing of the borders with France, Switzerland, Austria, Denmark and Luxembourg. The measure would begin on 16 March and the transportation of goods and commuters would be exempt. Deutsche Bahn decided to reduce its regional traffic and, to protect its staff, suspended further ticket inspections.
On 16 March, the state of Bavaria declared a state of emergency for 14 days and introduced measures to limit public movement and provide additional funds for medicine supplies. Bavarian minister president Markus Söder ordered closures of all sports and leisure facilities starting on 17 March. Restaurants were ordered to limit their dine-in opening hours to before 3:00 pm; to ensure a minimum distance of 1.5 metres between guests; and to accommodate a maximum of 30 guests. Supermarkets, chemist's shops, banks, pet shops, and all businesses that sell essential basic needs are allowed extended opening times including on Sundays, while non-essential shops are to be closed at all times.
Italian scientists, including virologist Roberto Burioni, warned Germany against underestimating the danger and the director of Eurac Research stated that Germany needed a lockdown or the numbers would go out of control. In the evening, Merkel announced measures similar to Bavaria for the entire country, agreed on by all federal states and the ruling coalition. This also includes a prohibition on travelling in coaches, attending religious meetings, visiting playgrounds or engaging in tourism. The government stressed it was no "shutdown".
On 17 March, Germany along with the European Union closed its borders to travellers from outside the bloc for 30 days, with exceptions for some European countries and designated essential purposes, and advised its citizens not to travel abroad. Inbound travel to Frankfurt Airport was suspended the same evening. Chancellor Merkel also stated that the European Commission had begun work on a collective tender for medical gear.
The Robert Koch Institute raised the health threat risk for COVID-19 in Germany to "high". Limits on the testing capacity and a delay of three to four days meant reported numbers were significantly lower than the actual ones. Employment agencies and job centres reported a tenfold increase in calls and had to relax sanctions. Berlin announced the plan to construct a hospital with the Bundeswehr for housing 1000 beds for COVID-19 patients. The Federal and State Governments agreed on a new emergency plan for German hospitals which includes doubling the current capacity of 28,000 intensive care beds, of which 25,000 are equipped with ventilation. After a man tested positive in a refugee centre in Suhl, a quarantine led to days of protest, physical resistance and escape attempts over fences or the sewage system. In an SEK operation with protection suits and tanks, 200 police forces calmed the situation and relocated 17 offenders. The Interior Minister of Lower Saxony warned that untrue news could trigger panic buying and conflicts, and demanded laws to punish publishing wrong information regarding the supply situation, including the medical one, or aspects of the virus.
On 18 March, Germany widened its travel restrictions to EU citizens from Italy, Switzerland, Denmark, Luxembourg and Spain, who had up to that time been able to arrive by flight or ship. Germany still received flights from Iran and China due to bilateral agreements, although the German ministry of transportation had stated two days earlier that it would forbid passenger flights from there. The passengers were not tested for the virus and their temperatures were not taken due to the absence of administrative orders. The head of the Robert Koch Institute warned that the number of infected could rise to up to ten million in two months unless social contacts were reduced significantly, and called for a minimum distance of 1.5 metres to be maintained in all direct contact. The government began to bring back thousands of German travellers stranded in non-EU countries with charter flights. The public health insurance companies assured to cover all expenses related to the crisis with no limitation.
On 19 March, discussions of the Minister presidents of the German states and Merkel regarding a curfew were set for 22 March. A German manufacturer of breathing masks for hospitals and doctors complained that his warnings in early February that masks were selling out and his offer to reserve masks for hospitals had remained unanswered by the health ministry. The ministry explained to the press that they had received the messages but deemed itself not responsible and that the numerous offers could not be replied to due to prioritisation. Some hospitals reported they were already facing shortages of protective gears. A survey revealed that more than 80% of the doctors in private practice reported a lack of protective equipment.
On 20 March, Bavaria was the first state to declare a curfew, inspired by and identical to Austria, where it had been implemented four days before. The Bavarian curfew would begin at midnight and fine violators up to €25,000. It would remain permitted to go to work as well as to supermarkets, medics and pharmacies, under the condition that the trip is solitary or with housemates. Under the same condition, it is also permitted to do sports outside; to visit the life partner or aged, sick or disabled people who do not live in a facility; and to help others in general or provide for animals. Restaurants except drive-ins and for take-away, DIY shops and hairdressers would be shut down. The Federal government scheduled a discussion for 22 March to decide on a nationwide curfew and still faced opposition from the German Association of Towns and Municipalities and reservations, among others from the Governing Mayor of Berlin, Michael Müller, or Minister President of Thuringia, Bodo Ramelow. Annalena Baerbock, chairwoman of the Greens, criticised Bavaria's introduction of the curfew as counter-productive, saying there should not be a competition of which federal state is the fastest and strictest and that there would already be a round of voting on this question with all the federal states and the Chancellor in two days. Starting also at midnight, the state of Saarland, a region close France's badly affected Grand Est region, also put a similar curfew into place. Lufthansa donated 920,000 breathing masks to the health authorities.
On 21 March, after more and more residents of refugee centres tested positive for the virus, asylum seekers were unsettled. In Suhl, some threw stones at the police, threatened to set the residence on fire, and used children as human shields. Refugee organisations demanded smaller residencies, including accommodation in hotels and hostels. According to data collected on 17–18 March 2020 spending behaviour in a sample of 2500 people in Germany, with an age range from 16 to 65 years confirmed panic buying, showing a 35% increase in the purchase of noodles, 34% increase in canned food, and sanitiser (+33%), a 30% increase in frozen food, mineral water and soap, as well as a slightly lower degree in prepackaged meals (+8%), toilet paper 26%, facial tissue +24% and medication +19%.
On 22 March, the government and the federal states agreed for at least two weeks to forbid gatherings of more than two people and require a minimum distance of 1.5 metres (4 ft 11 in) between people in public except for families, partners or people living in the same household. Restaurants and services like hairdressers were to be closed. Individual states and districts were allowed to impose stricter measures than these. Saxony joined Bavaria and the Saarland in prohibiting residents from leaving their dwellings except for good reasons, which are similar to the ones in the other two states; outdoor exercise is permitted under the new rules only alone or in groups of maximal five members of the same household.
Chancellor Merkel was quarantined because the physician who had vaccinated her two days earlier tested positive. Volkswagen bought medical equipment in China in a double-digit million euro range to donate it in Germany and voiced its intention to produce masks.
On 23 March, the government decided on a financial aid package totalling around 750 billion euros taking on new debt for the first time since 2013, to mitigate the damage of the coronavirus pandemic on the economy. Stephan Pusch, the District Administrator of Heinsberg, asked the Chinese president for help with protective equipment, because the reserve of masks and protective gowns would last only a few more days. Hospitals and doctors urged the government again to address the lack of masks and other protection gear. Berlin received 8000 masks from the nation's central provisioning, which would mean only one mask for every doctor's practice. Of the ten million masks promised by Federal Health Minister Spahn, only 150,000 had arrived so far. A transport plane arrived with masks and coronavirus test kits donated by Alibaba. Other Chinese tech companies like Oppo and Xiaomi also donated masks. Beiersdorf delivered 6000 litres of disinfectants as part of a larger donation of 500 tons.
On 24 March, a delivery of 6 million protective masks of type FFP-2 ordered by the German central provisioning to protect health workers was reported missing at an airport in Kenya. They had been produced by a German company and it was unclear why they had been in Kenya. 10 million protective masks had been ordered by the central provisioning altogether. The lack of protective equipment, especially of face masks and disinfectants, led hospitals to re-use disposable masks. Undertakers requested protective equipment and raising their status to being relevant for the system to get priority access to protective gear. Most dentists practices did not have FFP-2 masks and some considered closing their practices. Several alcohol manufacturers started to deliver disinfectants or alcohol to pharmacies and hospitals. Klosterfrau Healthcare announced it would donate 100,000 litres of disinfectant and Jägermeister provided 50,000 litres of alcohol for producing disinfectants. As of late March, Deutsche Krankenhaus-Gesellschaft (DKG) reported an estimated number of 28,000 intensive care beds, of which 20,000 had respiratory support. 70 to 80 per cent were occupied by non-COVID-19 patients. A project to find out the exact percentage of free intensive care beds in Germany had been started by Deutsche Interdisziplinäre Vereinigung für Intensiv- und Notfallmedizin (DIVI) and half of all hospitals joined it.
On 25 March, the German Bundestag approved, with a large majority, the stimulus package which the government had decided on two days earlier. It also suspended the constitutionally enshrined debt brake to approve the supplementary government budget of 156 billion euros. The Kultusministerkonferenz decided against cancelling the Abitur school-leaving examinations, which were currently under way in Hessen and Rhineland-Palatinate. The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) warned that the epidemic had only just begun in Germany.
On 26 March, Robert Bosch GmbH announced it had developed a new COVID-19 test system, which could diagnose whether a patient was infected in less than 2.5 hours instead of days and could be run automatically at the point of care. According to Bosch, the test would be available in Germany in April and could check for 10 respiratory pathogens simultaneously with an accuracy of more than 95%. At night, it was reported the Interior Minister, Horst Seehofer, had decided to widen the scope of the entry restrictions, which had previously covered other EU- and non-EU citizens, to also prohibit asylum seekers from entering.
Drägerwerk announced that the first respiratory devices of a total order of 10,000 by the health ministry were finished, but it was unclear where to deliver them. The fulfilment of the order would extend over a whole year as the company had received many orders from other countries and the German government had not asked them to be supplied first. Drägerwerk also announced it had doubled its production of breathing masks.
On the morning of 28 March, the body of Hesse's Minister of Finance Thomas Schäfer was found next to the Cologne–Frankfurt high-speed rail line near Hochheim am Main. Volker Bouffier suspected that his suicide resulted from worries about the future in the wake of the corona crisis crushing him.
On 29 March, in Berlin and Hamburg two demonstrations for the adoption of more refugees were considered a violation of the contact ban and were dispersed by police forces. Adidas, Deichmann, H&M and many other retail companies which had their shops closed as part of the government restrictions announced that they planned to suspend rent payment according to the new law granting temporary relief during the corona crisis. Christine Lambrecht, called it "indecent and unacceptable" and Bundestag member Florian Post (SPD) published a video of himself burning an Adidas shirt and calling for a boycott of the company.
30 March – 5 April
On 31 March, Jena was the first major German city to announce an obligation to wear masks, or makeshift masks including scarves, in supermarkets, public transport, and buildings with public traffic. Minister president of Bavaria, Markus Söder, stated that the problem of mask acquisition needed to be solved before discussing an obligation to wear masks, and demanded a national emergency production of protective masks. Intensive care physicians criticised the lack of protective clothing in nursing services, clinics and doctors' practices as a state failure.
On 1 April, the project of a European Coronavirus app was publicised that, unlike apps of other countries, could satisfy the requirements of the EU's stringent data protection, releasable in Germany around 16 April. The project, titled Pan-European Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing (PEPP-PT), involved eight European countries and, on the German side, participation came from the Fraunhofer Institute for Telecommunications, Robert Koch Institute, Technical University of Berlin, TU Dresden, University of Erfurt, Vodafone Germany and (for testing) Bundeswehr. The app would use Bluetooth to register close contact to other people with the app anonymously and warn the user when a person who had previously been in close contact officially registered an infection. Most German politicians demanded that public usage should be voluntary.
On 1 April, Health minister Jens Spahn forbade flights from Iran, effective immediately, on the basis of the new Infection Protection Act. Chancellor Merkel extended the social distancing measures to 19 April and asked people not to travel during the Easter holidays.
On 2 April, the Robert Koch Institute changed its previous recommendation that only people with symptoms should wear masks to also include people without symptoms. A general obligation to wear masks in public, not supported by the federal government and most regional governments, was discussed. It faced the counter-argument of general shortages of protection gear that could not even guarantee supply for the health care and maintenance system. At least 2,300 of German medical personnel in hospitals were confirmed to have contracted Sars-CoV-2. The number of cases from other medical sectors was not systematically collected and thus not known; most federal state governments and the Federal Health Ministry replied to a team of investigating journalists that no information could be given. In Bavaria, where 244 medical practices had been closed due to quarantine (141), lack of protection gear (82) and a lack of childcare (21), the Bavarian State Ministry for Health and Care instructed its health departments not to answer the request for information.
On 7 April, the Robert Koch Institute, in partnership with healthtech startup Thryve, launched the app Corona-Datenspende (Corona Data Donation) for voluntary consensual use by the German public to help monitor the spread of COVID-19 and analyse the effectiveness of measures taken against the pandemic. The app was designed to be used with a range of smartwatches and fitness trackers to share anonymised health data for scientific purposes. Project leader Dirk Brockmann stated that he hoped that 100,000 people would sign up. Later that day, the RKI announced that more than 50,000 users had downloaded the app.
A preliminary result, published on 9 April, from a study by the University of Bonn, based on a sample from 1,000 residents of Gangelt in Heinsberg district, North Rhein-Westphalia (NRW) showed that two per cent of its population were infected, while 15 per cent of the residents have developed antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, regardless of whether they showed any symptoms. This constitutes a mortality rate of 0.37 per cent, significantly below the 0.9 per cent which Imperial College of the UK had estimated, or the 0.66 per cent found in a revised study last week. Several experts criticised that the Heinsberg study had been made public initially through a press conference – at which NRW Minister President Armin Laschet was also present – and expressed doubts about the method of statistical sampling used in the study, as well as other aspects.
On 13 April, the German National Academy of Sciences, Leopoldina, published its third ad hoc statement on the COVID-19 pandemic in Germany. The statement, which supplements its two predecessors, described strategies for a stepwise lifting or modification of measures against the pandemic, taking into account psychological, social, legal, pedagogic and economic aspects. Re-opening of classroom primary and lower-level secondary education as soon as feasible, with observation of hygiene and physical distancing measures, was recommended. The statement did not contain a timeframe for implementing its recommendations. Already before the release of the statement, Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that the recommendations of the report would be "very important" in political decision-making regarding the pandemic.
On 15 April, after a video conference with the Minister presidents of the 16 Federal states, Chancellor Merkel stated that Germany had achieved "fragile intermediate success" in slowing the spread of the virus, but restrictions of public life remained key to preventing the spread of the virus from accelerating again. Shops with a retail space of up to 800 square metres, as well as bookshops, bike shops and car dealerships, would be allowed to reopen to the public on 20 April, providing they followed specified conditions of distancing and hygiene. Schools would start opening on 4 May, as well as hair salons, the latter under particularly strict conditions. It was agreed that large cultural events would not be allowed before 31 August. Other restrictions on social life, which had been imposed on 22 March – including the ban on gatherings of more than two people – were extended until at least 3 May. Merkel urgently recommended people to wear protective masks on public transport and while shopping, but stopped short of making them mandatory.
On 16 April, Bavarian State Premier Markus Söder stated that Oktoberfest would most likely be cancelled. While the government and state governors started to reach agreement to relax some aspects of the social distancing protocols, large events would be banned until at least 31 August.
On 20 April, as shops started to reopen – with differences from state to state in the level of restrictions – Chancellor Merkel thanked Germans for adhering, on the whole, to advice on staying at home and to physical distancing rules. At the same time, she warned that the country continued to be "at the start of this pandemic". If infections were to resurge, which would be visible after two weeks, another shutdown would follow, an outcome which had to be prevented for the sake of the economy.
On 21 April, Bavarian State Premier Söder announced that Oktoberfest would be cancelled.
27 April – 3 May
For the first time in its 70-year history, the German Trade Union Confederation had cancelled its traditional demonstrations throughout Germany on 1 May, holding instead a three-hour online streaming event. Nevertheless, on that day a number of authorised and unauthorised gatherings took place in Berlin, Hamburg, Leipzig, Frankfurt and other German cities. In Berlin, 27 authorised protests were held, each capped at a maximum of 20 participants. On May Day in Kreuzberg, several thousand protesters or spectators took part in demonstrations which, while unauthorised, were largely left alone by the police. Most of those gathered appeared to keep a safe distance from each other; however, from the early evening onwards, many hundreds were observed not to do so, leading Berlin's Senator for the Interior Andreas Geisel to sharply condemn the protesters for their "geballte Unvernunft" ("bunched-up lack of common sense"). After nightfall, several members of the police force were injured, who arrested 209 people. In Hamburg, police dissolved an unauthorised assembly of 350 people at Reeperbahn and later another one at Sternschanze, where some rioters threw objects at them. An assembly in Leipzig which, according to preliminary estimates by police, drew more than 200 participants, received a spontaneous permit by authorities.
After a summit between Angela Merkel and state leaders on 30 April, the federal government allowed opening of museums, monuments, botanical gardens and zoos, and religious services under strict social distancing conditions.
On 4 May, the district of Coesfeld in North Rhine-Westphalia recorded 581 infections, an increase by 53 cases from two days earlier. It was reported that a large part of this increase had come from a proactive case tracing and testing of employees at a meat factory in Coesfeld city by the district health office. The plant was allowed to continue to operate under tight supervision by the office.
On a conference call between Chancellor Angela Merkel and 16 state premiers on 6 May, Merkel stated that the goal of slowing down the virus had been achieved and that the first phase of the pandemic was over, while asking everyone to remain cautious so as not to cause a second wave. At the same time, the federal government announced the lifting of more restrictions, while contact limitations would remain until 5 June. Under the newly agreed conditions, a maximum of two different households can meet in public. All shops are allowed to open, schools and kindergartens may open in phases, people in care homes are allowed visits from one permanent contact person, outdoor sports without physical contact can resume, and Bundesliga matches may resume starting 15 May, behind closed doors (the latter practice being known in Germany as de:Geisterspiele). The decision on specific opening dates, including those for the restaurant sector, has been left to individual states. Local governments were authorised to reimpose restrictions immediately in case of a new wave of cases reaching 50 per 100,000 people within 7 days in a locality.
On 7 May, a test of 200 employees at the Coesfeld meat processing plant, where cases had first been reported on 4 May, revealed 151 were positive for COVID-19. North Rhine-Westphalia State Health Minister Karl-Josef Laumann stated that the shared accommodation of workers in tight quarters was a possible reason for the outbreak. He also stated that the number of new infections in Coesfeld district had been 61 per 100,000 people over the previous week. The plant was closed until further notice, while schools and day care facilities in the district were allowed to open as planned on 11 May. On 9 May, the RKI gave the number of infections in the Coesfeld district in the past week as 76 cases per 100,000, while all other districts in North Rhine-Westphalia were reported to have remained considerably below the government-set threshold of 50 cases per 100,000.
By the afternoon of 10 May, five locations in Germany reported an exceedance of the threshold: besides Coesfeld, these were the city of Rosenheim in Bavaria (the latter having had a first exceedance on 7 May); the districts Greiz and Sonneberg in Thuringia; and the district Steinburg in Schleswig-Holstein.
On 12 May, the Senate of Berlin agreed to a traffic light-type warning system for a re-tightening of coronavirus restrictions. Besides the number of new infections per 100,000 residents in the preceding seven days, which had been agreed upon earlier by the federal government with the German states, it also considers the development of the reproduction number R and the capacity of intensive-care hospital beds.
On 13 May, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer announced that border controls with several neighbouring countries would be eased starting 15 May. On that day, controls at the border with Luxembourg would be scrapped, and the goal would be to have free travel to Austria, France, and Switzerland starting 15 June.
On 14 May, the German government tabled a law aimed in particular at improving the protection of risk groups and enabling a better understanding of the progress of the pandemic. It came into effect the following day. Regular contacts of persons at risk, such as in nursing homes, are to be subject to more thorough coronavirus testing, to recognise outbreaks early and to break transmission chains. Laboratories are now required to report negative test results, and to provide the probable place of infection if available; data will be reported to RKI in anonymised form. Carers in facilities for the aged, including volunteers and trainees, will be entitled to a one-off tax-free payment of up to 1,500 euros. The costs of intensive care treatment of COVID-19 patients from other European countries will be borne by Germany if the patients are unable to be treated in their home countries due to lack of capacity.
On 15 May, it was reported that Labour Minister Hubertus Heil was to present a government proposal on 18 May to Germany's "corona cabinet", aimed at improving hygiene standards in meat processing plants through measures including prohibition of subcontractors. During the days prior, several German states had reported outbreaks in meat plants.
On 20 May, in response to the recent outbreaks of COVID-19 at several meat processing plants, the German government agreed on a new framework of regulations for the industry, including an effective ban on subcontracting at meat packing plants, as well as tighter supervision of any living quarters provided by the employers. The draft was to be put into a law which still required parliamentary approval.
New outbreaks at initial reception facilities (called Ankerzentren in several German states) and other housing for refugees continued to be reported in several parts of Germany. On 21 May 137 out of 580 residents at an Ankerzentrum in Geldersheim, Bavaria, were reported to have been infected. Several dozen residents had angrily demanded on 18 May that the quarantine, which by then had been in place for over seven weeks, be lifted. A spokesperson of the local government of Lower Franconia expressed his understanding for the protests.
On 23 May, local authorities in Frankfurt told a news agency that more than 40 people had tested positive for the coronavirus after attending a church service on 10 May. It was reported that the church had adhered to official social distancing and hygiene rules.
On the weekend of 23/24 May, it became known that Thuringia State Premier Bodo Ramelow intended to lift all general coronavirus related restrictions after 5 June, the expiry date of the then current set of restrictions. The announcement met with a heated debate and severe criticism from health experts including epidemiologist Karl Lauterbach, as well as the media.
The plans of Thuringia State Premier Ramelow continued to be the subject of intense debate. A survey by public broadcaster ZDF found that of those polled throughout Germany, 72 per cent were against Ramelow's plans. 56 per cent of respondents deemed the restrictions currently in place as neither too tight nor too relaxed.
On 3 June, the German federal cabinet agreed to allow travels to all 26 EU countries, the United Kingdom, Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein starting 15 June, subject to the pandemic being sufficiently under control in the destination country. Travel warnings would still be maintained with regard to countries where large-scale curfews or entry restrictions remain in place. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas stated that he anticipated Spain to open its borders to travellers on 21 June, rather than the currently set date of 1 July. Norway stated that it would consider to allow entry from certain neighbouring countries, which would include Germany.
On 9 June, the state cabinet of Thuringia agreed to lift most contact restrictions starting 13 June. In the new Grundverordnung (basic regulation), citizens are encouraged to strive to keep physical social contact with others at a low level, and to keep the group of people who they have such contact with steady. The minimum physical distance requirement of 1.5 metres is dropped for groups from at most two households. The use of face masks in public transport and in shops continues to be required. Folk festival and sports event organisers may apply for an exemption from the general prohibition of such events.
In mid June 2020, the German government launched a COVID-19 tracing app. On 23 October, the Corona-Warn-App was reported to have 16 million active users. From 19 October, it exchanged warnings with apps from Ireland and Italy, and other European countries were expected to follow. The app is anonymous and while its use is voluntary, the government later included it in its official recommendations.
On 17 June, German authorities announced that a total of 657 people had tested positive at a slaughterhouse run by meat processing firm Tönnies in the city of Gütersloh, out of 983 completed tests. Numbers were expected to rise once the total number of just over 1,000 tests had been completed. As a consequence, schools in the districts were closed until the start of the summer holidays on 29 June. Tönnies apologised for the outbreak. The company announced later that over 5,000 further members of the workforce would be tested, with the production staff ordered to stay inside their living quarters when not at work until the remaining meat products had finished processing. Virologist Isabella Eckerle stated that she considered it "extremely unlikely" that the spate of infections had been the result of workers returning to their home countries in Eastern Europe over the preceding long weekend, and that a superspreading event was more likely to have been the cause of the outbreak.
By 20 June 2020, the number of positive tests exceeded 1,000. On 23 June, against the backdrop of a rise in confirmed cases to above 1,500, Minister President Armin Laschet and State Health Minister Karl-Josef Laumann announced that neighbouring districts of Gütersloh and Warendorf would, until 30 June, be subject to the same contact restrictions as in March. Schools in Gütersloh would also close until the summer break. In the meantime, wide testing of the local population would be carried out to establish the extent of the outbreak; to that date, merely 24 positive tests had been returned from those who did not work at Tönnies. In response to the development, Bavaria issued a temporary ban for hotels to accommodate guests coming from any district which exceeded the threshold of 50 infections per 100,000 residents in the past seven days, unless travellers could produce an up-to-date negative coronavirus test.
On 29 June, it was proclaimed by Laschet and Laumann that the lockdown of Warendorf district would end on the night of 30 June, while it would be extended in Gütersloh district by another week.
On 21 September, a report from the Detmold regional government from mid May surfaced, which stated that violations of hygiene rules had been found by inspectors already before the outbreak, with no workers in the slaughter areas having worn masks at an inspection on 15 May, and canteens and toilets not being up to standards. The report also criticised that the next inspection had only been carried out two weeks after.
On midnight from 1 to 2 July, in the course of implementing a recommendation of the Council of the European Union from 30 June on phasing out temporary entry restrictions, Germany allowed unrestricted entry from eleven countries outside the European Union. Extended entry possibilities from all such countries were created, with the list of "important reasons" including: healthcare workers, health researchers and geriatric care workers; skilled and highly qualified foreign workers if their employment is necessary from an economic perspective and requires presence in Germany; and foreign students whose course of study is not fully possible from abroad.
On 6 July, the supreme administrative court of North Rhine–Westphalia (Oberverwaltungsgericht für das Land Nordrhein-Westfalen) suspended the extension until 7 July of the lockdown in Gütersloh district. In its ruling, the court stated that more differentiated lockdown measures depending on the location within the district would have been appropriate and possible, given the extensive testing in the district that had taken place after the outbreak at Tönnies.
A preprint on the origins of the Tönnies meat factory outbreak, authored by researchers from the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research, the Medical Centre Hamburg-Eppendorf, and the Heinrich Pette Institute, was uploaded on SSRN on 23 July. The researchers reconstructed the origins of the outbreak, and found that a single superspreader had transmitted the virus within a radius of over eight metres to co-workers. They suggested that transmission of the virus may have been facilitated by the low temperatures in the factory, its limited fresh air supply, and the strenuous nature of the work. On the other hand, the living conditions in the dormitories appeared to not have played a major role in the evolution of the outbreak.
On 24 July, authorities announced that Germany would offer free voluntary coronavirus tests to all returning holidaymakers, with arrivals from designated high-risk countries – which at the time included 130 countries – being eligible for tests on the same day. Testing facilities would be set up at airports.
On 1 August, some 20,000 people protested in Berlin against the anti-pandemic measures. A large majority of participants ignored the mask and physical distancing requirements. In the late afternoon, police ordered demonstrators to leave the scene, on the grounds that organisers had failed to enforce coronavirus hygiene rules. The assembly leader was charged by police for this offence. Several local and federal politicians severely criticised the flouting of coronavirus rules, and considered the protesters' demands to be starkly at odds with the severity of the crisis. Germany had recently logged an uptick in daily coronavirus cases. Police reported that 45 of its officers were injured, with three being hospitalised. In a survey by Forsa Institute published on 8 August, a large majority of 91 per cent of respondents rejected demonstrations against coronavirus restrictions such as the one on 1 August.
According to a new regulation issued by Health Minister Jens Spahn that came in force on 8 August, travellers returning to Germany from designated high-risk countries are required to undergo a coronavirus test within three days of arrival, unless they are able to produce a recent negative test result when entering Germany. Previously on 1 August, free coronavirus testing had been offered to all returning travellers, and travellers from high-risk countries had been required to report to their local public health office already earlier. Testing facilities were made available at airports.
On 27 August, as numbers of daily infections rose to levels of April, Merkel and the state leaders agreed on a raft of measures, including a minimum fine of €50 for not wearing a mask in shops or on public transport (not implemented in Saxony-Anhalt as premier Reiner Haseloff pointed to low infection figures in the state). Additionally, free coronavirus tests for travellers returning to Germany from non-risk areas would be ended, while an aim was formulated that travellers returning from high-risk areas would be quarantined. No restrictions were placed on the number of people meeting at private gatherings; however, Merkel and the state leaders appealed to the public to "critically weigh" the risks associated with such events.
On 19 September, it was reported that Health Minister Spahn pushed for enactment of regulations for the distribution of future COVID-19 vaccines in Germany. Medical doctors, ethics experts and social scientists would participate in drafting such regulations, targeted to be completed by the end of October. Spahn had previously expressed his view that those with co-morbidities, the aged, and employees in the health sector should be offered prioritised access to such vaccines.
On 29 September, Chancellor Angela Merkel explained that the government's guidelines to tackle the virus, encapsulated in the acronym AHA, which stands for distancing, hygiene and masks, will be extended to become AHACL. The "C" stands for the coronavirus warning app introduced in June, and "L" for German or airing a room. "Regular impact ventilation in all private and public rooms can considerably reduce the danger of infection," the government's recommendation explained.
Early in the month, there was a sharp upturn in daily reported cases. On 8 October, 4,096 new cases were reported by the Robert Koch Institute, compared to 2,828 the day before. RKI President Lothar Wieler warned of the possibility of the number of daily cases exceeding 10,000 in the coming weeks, or of an uncontrolled spread occurring, but expressed his hopes that this could be averted. He said that experts saw larger outbreaks as well as numerous smaller ones throughout the country as contributing to the surge of cases. Health Minister Spahn urged Germans to assiduously follow the AHACL formula. He said that many of the recent cases were due to youths who were socially active without giving sufficient regard to the higher risks that the virus posed to the aged.
On 17 October, Chancellor Angela Merkel used her weekly podcast to urge German residents to "refrain from any trip that is not really necessary, any celebration that is not really necessary", and to stay at home "whenever possible". Head of the Chancellery Helge Braun spoke of an "enormous" need for contact tracers. As of 31 October, the Bundeswehr had 3,200 soldiers participate in pandemic containment measures, principally in contact tracing, with plans to add a further 720 soldiers. The Bundeswehr confirmed it had a total contingent of 15,000 soldiers ready for deployment in the crisis.
On 21 October, Health Minister Spahn tested positive for the coronavirus and began self-isolation with cold-like symptoms. On 22 October, the RKI reported a record 11,287 infections, a sharp rise from the 7,595 cases reported on 21 October, RKI President Wieler called the situation "very serious".
On 28 October, as the number of new reported infections continued to rise and the established system of tracing of contacts of confirmed positive cases was no longer possible to maintain in Berlin, Chancellor Angela Merkel and the leaders of the 16 German states convened for an emergency video conference, after which they announced a partial lockdown, promoted by the government as "wave break", effective from 2–30 November. During the lockdown period, a maximum of ten people from at most two households would be allowed to meet; religious congregations and street protests would be subject to exemptions. Schools and kindergartens would remain open. Restaurants and cafes would only be able to sell takeaway food. Small firms would be able to access direct compensation based on their November 2019 revenue.
On 1 November, Spahn called for the public to prepare for "months of restrictions and abstinence". At a press conference on 2 November, Merkel also spoke of the need to "limit private contacts", saying that the measures were intended to create conditions for a "tolerable December".
Ahead of a meeting of Chancellor Merkel with the state ministers-presidents on 16 November, a draft proposal by the federal government surfaced which called for a universal mask requirement in schools including during breaks, as well as other measures. After strong resistance of the state chiefs, Merkel conceded to their demand to postpone any decision until a further meeting to be held the following week.
On 25 November, as it emerged that the lockdown had to date served to stabilise daily infection numbers but not reduced them, Chancellor Merkel and the leaders of the federal states agreed to an extension of the partial lockdown until at least 20 December. From 1 December, social gathering restrictions will be tightened to allow only private gatherings of at most five people from at most two different households, down from a previous limit of ten people, not counting children up to 14 years of age. This limit will be temporarily raised again to ten people for the period from 21 December 2020 until 1 January 2021, covering Christmas. Individual states are authorised to further tighten these restrictions in districts with more than 200 diagnosed infections per 100,000 residents in the past seven days. To reduce the transmission risk at Christmas gatherings, the start of school holidays was planned for 19 December. Retail outlets with more than 800 square metres of sales area will be required to leave 20 square metres of space for each customer, up from the previous requirement of 10.
On 27 November, the total number of reported infections since the start of the pandemic reached one million.
On 2 December, the countrywide lockdown was extended until 10 January. Berlin's governing mayor Michael Müller announced that the city would not relax the gathering rules. On 6 December, Bavarian premier Markus Söder announced that his state would likewise adopt stricter measures, including a nightly curfew from 9:00 p.m. until 5:00 a.m. in hotspots. Saxony, which had become the most afflicted German state, announced on 8 December that as its hospitals were "extremely burdened", it would impose a hard lockdown in which the Christmas break at schools, daycare centres and select shops would start early on 14 December. This and other recommendations were contained in a report by the German national science academy Leopoldina issued the same day.
The RKI raised its assessment of the level of danger to the health of the general population to "very high" on 11 December.
On 13 December, Chancellor Merkel and the state premiers agreed to a hard lockdown to be imposed from 16 December. Under the new regulations, schools will be closed. During the Christmas period from 24 to 26 December, social gathering rules will be relaxed to allowing one household to invite a maximum of four close family members from other households. New Year events would be banned, as would be drinking of alcohol in public places for the whole lockdown period. The latter measure ended the operations of pop-up Glühwein (mulled wine) shops, which had previously acted as a substitute for the cancelled Christmas markets in Cologne but had also drawn sharp criticism for undermining social distancing restrictions.
The first case of a variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that had originated in the United Kingdom, and which appeared to be considerably more transmissible than the original virus, was confirmed by authorities on 24 December. It was detected in a woman who had been travelling by plane from London to Frankfurt.
At a videoconference of Chancellor Merkel with the 16 state premiers on 5 January, the lockdown was extended by three weeks until 31 January. The high number of daily infections – far above the levels allowing contact tracing – and a worryingly large number of coronavirus-related deaths were given as reasons; additionally, the uncertainties surrounding the more infectious variant of the virus originating in the United Kingdom, of which the first case had been detected in Germany on 24 December. The government also announced a toughening of physical distancing requirements, with people only being able to meet with one other person outside their own household. In districts with more than 200 infections per 100,000 inhabitants over the past seven days, people would be restricted to travel a maximum of 15 kilometres from their place of residence, unless they had a good reason for travelling further. One rationale for the latter measure had been reports of day trippers thronging popular winter destinations.
The first case in Germany of the South African COVID-19 variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was confirmed by authorities on 12 January in a man returning with his family from a long-term stay in South Africa. Like the mutation originally detected in the United Kingdom, it appeared to be more transmissible than the original strain of the virus. It had not yet been ascertained if other family members, who had tested positive only after having tested negative at the time of their arrival in Germany, had also acquired the variant.
In an interview on 12 January with Deutschlandfunk, epidemiologist Krause urged for a massive step-up of the protection of residents of nursing homes and geriatric clinics to prevent a large number of deaths.
On 19 January, Merkel and the 16 state governors agreed to extend the lockdown until 14 February, and toughened it by a new requirement to wear filter masks such as FFP2 respirators. Employers are required, wherever possible, to allow employees to work from home – popularly known in Germany as the pseudo-anglicism "Homeoffice" – until 15 March.
On 21 January, an analysis by the Berlin Charité hospital of a coronavirus sample from a patient in a recent outbreak in Garmisch-Partenkirchen was published. The report said that, contrary to initial concerns, the sample did not show a new mutation, but rather a variant of the virus that had first been detected in March 2020. Up to the time of the report, 66 patients and staff at a hospital in Germisch-Partenkirchen had tested positive for that variant.
The first case in Germany of variant Beta of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was confirmed by authorities on 22 January in a traveller who had arrived at Frankfurt airport from Brazil one day earlier. He showed no symptoms. Also on 22 January, the total death toll in Germany crossed the 50,000 mark, according to the Robert Koch Institute.
Amidst concerns about coronavirus variants spreading in Germany, authorities on 29 January released a regulation under which – with exceptions including for those having the right to reside in Germany, as well as for those travelling in relation to urgent medical transports or for humanitarian reasons – an entry ban was imposed for travellers from "countries designated as regions with variants". The countries included were the United Kingdom, Ireland, Brazil, Portugal and South Africa, starting from 30 January, with Lesotho and Eswatini to follow on 31 January. The restrictions were set to run until 17 February. Interior Minister Horst Seehofer had said a few days earlier that the German government was mulling plans to drastically reduce air travel.
The RKI reported on 4 February that the seven-day incidence had dropped to 48 in the city of Munich. Mayor Dieter Reiter nevertheless stated that only if the value could be kept below the threshold of 50 over the coming week would there be grounds to discuss relaxation of the lockdown restrictions for the city.
On 10 February, Merkel and the heads of the German states agreed on extending the lockdown until 7 March, with hairdressers to be allowed to reopen on 1 March under strict conditions. Schools and daycare centres were agreed to be "the first to gradually reopen", with the decision on the timing and the modalities left to individual states. In view of the mutations of the virus, it was agreed that the relaxation of the restrictions would be discussed only after the seven-day incidence had dropped to below 35, rather than the threshold of 50 which had been in place since May 2020.
On 12 February, Health Minister Spahn announced that Germany would unilaterally close its borders to neighouring countries Czechia and Austrian province Tyrol, citing concerns about coronavirus variants. Exceptions were made for truck drivers and other essential professions, subject to a negative coronavirus test taken at most 48 hours prior to crossing the border. The European Commission wrote an official complaint letter to Germany – along with Hungary, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland –, calling for less restrictive measures. On 23 February, Minister of State Michael Roth rejected the criticism, saying that the measure did align with the Schengen Agreement.
On 26 February, Health Minister Spahn confirmed that the seven-day incidence among those 80 years and over had dropped from 200 in early February to 70. He said that this was probably due to the vaccination campaign, which prioritised this age group. The RKI said that the number of active outbreaks, new outbreaks and number of affected residents had declined, and that this was "very probable" due to vaccination.
On 3 March, the German government and the state ministers agreed on a five-step exit plan for the gradual re-opening of businesses and leisure facilities, where each additional step of relaxation was made contingent on the seven-day incidence not exceeding the value of 50 in the relevant region or state for the preceding 14 days. The first step, consisting in the discretionary opening of some school classes, daycares, and hairdressers, had already taken place on 1 March. The plan included an "emergency brake" to return to current lockdown measures, should the seven-day incidence in a region stay above the value of 100 over three consecutive days.
German discounter chain Aldi offered COVID-19 self-tests in its shops from 6 March; they sold out rapidly in some shops, as did those sold online by competitor Lidl. From 8 March, the government footed the bill for one weekly rapid test per resident, to be administered by trained personnel. On 16 February, Health Minister Spahn had given a projected starting date of 1 March.
On 10 March, RKI President Wieler said, referring to the recent increase in daily case numbers, that there were "clear signs" that the third wave of the pandemic had already begun.
From 15 March until 18 March, Germany temporarily suspended the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine "as a precaution" according to the Health Ministry, and on 30 March restricted its use in patients under the age of 60 years (see section Vaccination below).
On 24 March, the partial lockdown was extended until at least 18 April 2021. In a step that was considered highly unusual, Merkel withdrew her plan of a five-day period of shop closure beginning 1 April and no physical church services.
On 30 March, Interior Minister Seehofer announced that border controls for entries from South Tyrol had been scrapped, while those from the Czech Republic would remain in place for another two weeks. The compulsory coronavirus testing and quarantine requirements were to stay in place for the same period in both cases.
On 9 April, it was announced that Chancellor Merkel was planning to transfer powers from individual states to the federal level over the pandemic response, through amending the Infection Protection Act. This was specifically to unify the response in the case of high case incidences, which up to that time was a matter of the states. The same day, a meeting of Merkel with state premiers that had been scheduled for 12 April was announced to have been cancelled. The cabinet agreed on the amendments on 13 April; the Bundestag (parliament) decided however not to waive the deliberation period. The first reading in the Bundestag was scheduled for 16 April and the voting for 21 April.
The amendments contained a range of measures to be taken, at the level of districts or cities (not states), in case of the seven-day incidence exceeding the threshold of 100 on three consecutive days. Besides contact restrictions, the measures included a curfew between the hours of 9:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. the following day, with exceptions such as for travelling to work, caring for children and the elderly, and animal care. Daycare centres would close and schools suspend classroom teaching, with possible exceptions, if the incidence exceeded the threshold of 200.
In an open letter, the leaders of the Society for Aerosol Research criticised measures that focus on restricting outdoor activity. They said protection against infection must take place above all where people spend time indoors, because "the transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 viruses takes place almost without exception indoors." Afterwards, the planned curfew conditions were relaxed to starting an hour later, at 10:00 p.m, and allowing individual walks and individual sports until midnight.
On 14 April, the German physicians' union Marburger Bund called for a faster enactment of the measures, which were commonly referred to as Corona-Notbremse ("corona emergency brake"). Its head said that the amendments were already late, and that any later enactment would risk the situation in hospitals to get out of control. FDP party deputy leader Wolfgang Kubicki said on 20 April that his party was contemplating legal measures against curfews, which it deemed to be disproportionate.
A national mourning day for the nearly 80,000 fatalities of the coronavirus in Germany was held on 18 April. President Steinmeier and Chancellor Merkel attended a memorial service at Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in the morning.
The change in the Infection Protection Act was signed into law on 22 April. Taking effect on 24 April and valid until 30 June, it curtailed the powers of individual states in the case of high incidence rates. If the seven-day incidence remains above 100 over three consecutive days, then local authorities must restrict personal contacts to one household and at most one other person, with exceptions; impose a curfew from 10:00 p.m. until 5:00 a.m. the following day, with exceptions for walking or jogging alone until midnight; and mandate non-essential shops to require their customers to have a negative test result, and operate on appointment basis only. If the incidence is above 150, only pre-ordered goods would be allowed to be picked up. If the incidence is above 165, lose in-person teaching at school will be suspended, with exceptions possible. The discussion of the law on 21 April was accompanied by protests in Berlin, in which several thousand participated.
In late April, over 50 German actors made social media posts, under the slogan #allesdichtmachen (close everything), which mocked the COVID-19 restrictions. The German Cultural Council considered the action "unhelpful"; several actors distanced themselves from it, while some of those who participated withdrew their videos and expressed regret to the victims of the pandemic.
On 24 April, Germany banned flights from India with effect from 26 April, due to concern about variant Delta that had emerged in that country and was suspected to be responsible for the steep rise in COVID-19 cases there. Germans and foreigners with German residence permit, among others, would be exempt upon presentation of a negative test result before entry; a 14-day mandatory quarantine would still be required. As of 23 April, there were 21 cases of infections with the variant reported in Germany.
On 6 May, the German parliament decided to lift most pandemic restrictions for the fully vaccinated and previously infected, which numbered about 10 million at the time. The relaxations included the provision that members of those two groups would be treated as if having a negative COVID-19 test result for the purpose of visiting shops. The changes were expected to take effect on 8 May. The decision, which effectively introduced a two-tier system, met with criticism by some of those who still had to wait for their vaccination shot under the regulations, such as teenagers.
On 17 May, Health Minister Spahn announced that from 7 June, the COVID-19 vaccination prioritisation would be dropped, making everyone of age 16 and above eligible to receive a vaccine. Meanwhile, requests for vaccinations had already overrun practices. Ulrich Weigeldt, chair of the German Association of General Practitioners, asked the public to be patient.
On 26 May, the nationwide incidence fell to 46.8 per 100,000, which was the first time since October 2020 that the value had been below 50. Officials said that the drop was partly due to a public holiday on 24 May.
The RKI lowered its assessment of the level of danger to the health of the general population from "very high" to "high" on 1 June.
On 9 November 2020, the German vaccination commission STIKO, an independent advisory group which is part of the RKI, published a position paper jointly with the German Ethics Council and the Leopoldina Academy of Sciences on how access to a future COVID-19 vaccine should be regulated, given that sufficient quantities of such a vaccine would not immediately be available to everybody willing to undergo vaccination. The document highlighted the need to comply with medical, legal and ethical principles, and urged for the prioritisation scheme to be made transparent to the public.
On 18 December, Health Minister Spahn unveiled the government vaccination plan at a press conference. He warned that "we will have to live with this virus for a long time yet." The plan deviated from a STIKO proposal published the previous day in that it subdivided the population into three groups, instead of five as proposed by STIKO; and it allowed for priorisation within each of the groups, which Spahn defended against criticism from general practitioners and police as "allow[ing] a certain flexibility on the ground".
The first 9,750 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine were delivered to Germany's 16 states on 26 December. The state of Saxony-Anhalt started vaccinations the same day, one day before the official start. The first to receive the vaccine were German residents over the age of 80, as well as caregivers and hospital staff who were considered to be at particular risk.
By early January 2021, criticism was mounting over the slow progress of the vaccination program. The government tasked the RKI with investigating if, as in other countries, the second jab could be postponed. On 8 January, the German Health Ministry announced that regulators of the European Medicines Agency had approved the extraction of six, instead of five, doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine from each vial, and that this practice would be immediately adopted in Germany.
Production issues hampered the rollout of vaccines in the European Union and consequently also in Germany, as the country had ordered its vaccines through the bloc. On 22 January, it transpired that AstraZeneca would, after the expected approval of its vaccine by the European Union on 29 January, only be able to deliver 31 million doses, instead of the agreed 80 million doses. There were also difficulties reported with the delivery of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. AstraZeneca said on 31 January that it would supply 9 million additional doses during the first quarter, while BioNTech said that its new production plant in Marburg would allow them to increase their supply to the European Union from the initially planned 1.3 billion to 2 billion.
On 3 February, Spahn said that he expected that citizens would be able to choose between the three EU-approved vaccines in a few months. He flagged that the Russian Sputnik V vaccine could be produced in Germany, which could thus take a supportive role before EU approval; a recent study had shown a high efficacy of the Sputnik V vaccine. Spahn had said in late January that Germany would be open to the adoption of vaccines from Russia and China after EU approval, provided that they were safe and effective.
By 10 February, the number of second vaccinations – two vaccinations being necessary for each of the three vaccines approved as of that date – had risen to above 1.1 million, comprising about 1.32 per cent of the population. Difficulties with vaccine delivery had prompted authorities to retain vaccines for use in the second vaccination and consequently, a decrease in the daily number of first vaccinations.
By 15 March, 6,507,159 people have been given the first dose of the vaccine.
On 15 March, Germany temporarily suspended the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine "as a precaution" according to the Health Ministry, with Health Minister Spahn saying that the risk of blood clots developing after administration of the vaccine was low but could not be ruled out. While the German Medical Association supported the decision, others including epidemiologist Karl Lauterbach criticised it. Vaccinations with AstraZeneca resumed on 19 March after the European Medicines Agency deemed the vaccine "safe and effective".
On 30 March, on recommendations of Germany's vaccine panel, the use of AstraZeneca was restricted to patients 60 and older, except for patients for whom a COVID-19 infection was expected to pose a high risk, and who additionally had agreed to take the vaccine despite the small risk of serious side-effect. The Vaccination Commission revised this on 22 April to allow for use in younger ages, subject to their consent to medical advice about the risks.
On 8 April, following a meeting with his European Union counterparts the previous day, Spahn said that as the European Commission was not intending to buy the Sputnik V vaccine for the entire bloc, Germany would enter exclusive negotiations with Russia, in spite of an agreement of the bloc in early 2021 to shun exclusive negotiations with suppliers. The state of Bavaria had already signed a letter of intent to buy up to 2.5 million doses, and planned to manufacture the vaccine in Illertissen. Any purchases would be subject to approval from the European Medicines Agency.
On 6 May, the AstraZeneca vaccine was made available to all adults. Previously the vaccination campaign had considerably gained speed, with the number of vaccinations doses administered in – 15 April million – surpassing the total from January to March. On 10 May, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was likewise made generally available. As with the AstraZeneca vaccine, a prior consultation about the risks was mandated for under 60-year olds.
Rüdiger von Kries, a member of the vaccination commission STIKO, said on 25 May that, as "practically nothing" was known about long-term adverse effects of vaccinations on 12- to 15-year-old children and adolescents, STIKO would likely recommend them only for children with other risk factors. On 10 June, STIKO made such a limited recommendation, while also saying that healthy teenagers may also be vaccinated with the consent of themselves, their parents, and doctors. STIKO head Thomas Mertens said that this recommendation, which was more restrictive than that at EU level, was based on the scarcity of scientific evidence about side effects in that age group, and the observation that very children fell ill with COVID-19 as opposed to older people.
A digital vaccination pass was rolled out on 10 June. Health Minister Spahn announced that day that the pass was expected to be available to everyone in Germany who is fully vaccinated, by the end of June; and that it was planned to make it an acceptable proof of vaccination status also in other countries.
On 25 January 2021, the Health Ministry announced that Germany had bought 200,000 doses of experimental antibody cocktails for €400 million, to be administered at university hospitals only, and to be used only on high-risk patients at an early stage of the illness. The drugs, Bamlanivimab and REGN-COV-2, had been used on US President Donald Trump after he caught the virus in October 2020. The use of the drugs, which had not received approval by the European Medicines Agency, was permitted under a compassionate use clause.
Germany officially entered a recession given that its economy contracted 2.2% during the first quarter of 2020.
As of 1 April, almost half a million companies in Germany had sent their workers on a government-subsidized short-time working scheme known as Kurzarbeit. The German short-time work compensation scheme is similar to schemes in France and Britain.
On 8 April, Germany reverted a travel ban for seasonal agricultural workers, allowing 80,000 Eastern Europeans to enter between April and May to harvest seasonal foods.
In a press release from 29 April, the Federal Government predicted that gross domestic product to decline by 6.3 per cent in 2020, with the sharpest drop in economic output, and the peak in Kurzarbeit short-time working, occurring in the second quarter.
On 22 May, in an article published in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, the German Council of Economic Experts stated its views on the design of the planned coronavirus recovery package. In particular, it weighed in on the debate about whether the recovery package should include a higher cash incentive for buying electric cars, a plan which the Merkel government had favoured. The Council recommended against any sector specific aid measures, and advocated focusing on investments in education and infrastructure, lowering the cost of energy, and allowing companies to balance losses with gains from previous and expected gains for future years.
On 3 June, the Bundesagentur für Arbeit (BA) announced that the jobless figure in Germany had risen in May to 2.813 million, a year-on-year increase of 577,000, bringing the unemployment rate to 6.1 per cent. In his analysis, BA director Detlef Scheele stated that even though the coronavirus crisis had hit the labour market with unprecedented severity, it was coping reasonably well in his opinion.
According to the Federal Statistical Office, exports dropped in April by 31 per cent compared to the previous year, which was unprecedented since 1950, when trade balance statistics began to be collected.
On 29 June, the German parliament passed the €130 billion stimulus package that had been adopted by the government on 12 June. Actions include a temporary reduction in VAT until the end of 2020, and a bonus for families with children amounting to €300 per child, to be paid in two instalments of €150 in September and October 2020.
On 8 July 2020, Economy Minister Peter Altmaier announced the release of non-repayable bridging funds for medium-sized companies with annual turnover not exceeding €750 million which have been affected by the COVID-19 crisis. The amount of aid depends on revenue lost, and on the number of employees. Companies have to apply for the funds through their tax advisors or auditors, a step that was intended to safeguard from abuse of the scheme, also in view of evidence that aid that had been made available at the beginning of the crisis had been misused. On occasion of presenting the scheme, Altmaier stated that he expected some sectors of the economy to return to a phase of growth from October 2020.
In late August 2020, the Federal Statistical Office reported a decrease in gross domestic product of 9.7% in the second quarter of 2020 as compared to the first. This was attributed to the collapse in exports as well as health protection measures during the pandemic; the latter had shut down whole industries such as those related to conferences and concerts. Economists expected a rebounding of the economy in the third quarter due to the easing of coronavirus related restrictions, but saw the possibility of a second wave of infections hanging as a threat over those predictions.
To mitigate the impact of the second lockdown from November 2020 on businesses, the self-employed, and associations and institutions who were required to close, the German government introduced an "umbrella" scheme, initially with an estimated budget of €30 billion. The scheme, termed Novemberhilfe (November aid), received approval under the Temporary Framework of the European Commission. With the lockdown continuing into January 2021, further aid was made available under new schemes. As with the Novemberhilfe and the measures earlier agreed in July 2021, companies were usually required to lodge applications for these funds through tax advisors or auditors. The complex and changing rules for eligibility for funding led to complaints by these professions that they were overburdened.
Based on preliminary calculations, the Federal Statistical Office reported on 14 January 2021 that the gross domestic product had shrunk by 5.0 per cent in 2020 as compared to the previous year. While price-adjusted private consumption had shrunk by a record 6.0 per cent, this had been partly offset by a government consumption increase of 3.4 per cent, in which the purchase of protective equipment and hospital costs had played a role. For the first time since 2011, Germany recorded a budget deficit, which at 4.8 per cent was second only to that of 1995, when the debts of the Treuhand were transferred to the federal budget.
In March 2021, the Karlsruhe social court ruled that a one-off payout of €150 to adult recipients of basic social income (commonly known in Germany as Hartz IV) eligible as of May 2021, was unconstitutional. The payout had been agreed upon in February by the ruling CDU/CSU and SPD coalition as a support measure in the pandemic. The court said that an increase of about €100 for each month of the pandemic was necessary.
On 26 March, the Federal Constitutional Court stopped a German law for the roll-out of an aid package totalling €750 billion that had been agreed by the European Council in summer 2020. The legal challenge had been mounted by Bernd Lucke and others, who rejected the repayment of debts in the name of all EU countries jointly. The European Commission expressed optimism that the package could still be rolled out from the end of June 2021 as planned. On 24 April, the court rejected the legal challenge. The main court proceedings were still pending.
According to a study by the Cologne Institute for Economic Research whose results were published on 20 April, private consumption had dropped in 2020 by 6.1 per cent, the largest amount in 70 years, translating to €1,250 per capita. The drop was ascribed to an increased savings ratio and lower incomes during the pandemic.
Introduction of mask requirements
On 31 March, city-county Jena, Thuringia, was the first large German city to introduce an obligation to wear masks, or makeshift masks including scarves, in supermarkets, public transport, and buildings with public traffic, from 6 April, very successfully. On 2 April, the Robert Koch Institute, the federal epidemic authority, changed its previous recommendation that only people with symptoms should wear masks to also include people without symptoms. The district of Nordhausen, Thuringia, followed the example of Jena, with effect from 14 April, the city of Erfurt on 22 April.
German chancellor Merkel and state governors first gave "strong advice" to wear face masks in public starting 20 April. Saxony made it mandatory from that day, Saxony-Anhalt followed starting 23 April and (the rest of) Thurinigia starting 24 April, then finally the governors agreed to make it mandatory, so most other states followed starting 27 April, except Schleswig-Holstein, which introduced requirements starting 29 April, and Berlin, where shops were initially excluded but were then included starting 29 April.
As of 24 April, most German states had no penalties for not wearing a mask. However, not wearing masks in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania can result in a €25 fine, in Hesse a €50 fine, and in Bavaria, not wearing a face mask while on public transportation or in a shop can result in a €150 fine for first-time offenders. There are exceptions for mask wearing for young children, severely disabled persons, or with those with respiratory diseases such as asthma.
Mask shortage and controversies
In March 2020, car manufacturers announced donations of several hundred thousand masks to hospitals, and health authorities. Daimler donated 110,000 masks of their pandemic protection reserve and BMW donated 100,000 breathing masks. Volkswagen announced a donation of 200,000 masks of FFP-2 and FFP-3 types and were looking into manufacturing medical equipment parts. On 8 April, the CEO of BMW, Oliver Zipse, announced the production of FFP-2 masks both for the general public and for its workers with a target of hundred of thousands of masks each day, together with the donation to Bavaria of two million simpler masks within the following two weeks. On 28 March, more than three million protective masks bought by Volkswagen arrived at Frankfurt airport from Shanghai. They were the first shipment of a larger donation of medical equipment worth 40 million euros which were brought to hospitals and federal agencies in Hesse and Lower Saxony.
In April, a German company placed an online order for 10 million masks, valued at €15 million, to a fraudulently cloned website of a Dutch supply company. Irish Garda Síochána and Dutch authorities recovered €880,000 from a Dutch account and €498,000 from a Nigerian account, both tied to the scam.
On 3 April, Berlin's Senator of the Interior Andreas Geisel accused the United States agents of appropriating a shipment of 200,000 3M-made face masks meant for Berlin police from the airport in Bangkok. Andreas Geisel considered it an "act of modern piracy", SPD acting chairman Rolf Mützenich asked for an investigation and a response from the government, and Berlin mayor Michael Müller blamed Trump for it and called it "inhuman and unacceptable". However, these claims were rejected by 3M officials, who stated that they have "no records of an order for respiratory masks from China for the Berlin police" and Berlin police later admitted the shipment was not seized by U.S. authorities, but was believed to have been bought at a better price, possibly by a German merchant or China. As a result, Berlin opposition member Burkard Dregger accused the Berlin senate of deception for the purpose of covering up their failure to provide the masks. Politico Europe reported that "the Berliners are taking a page straight out of the Trump playbook and not letting facts get in the way of a good story."
German officials reported that U.S. buyers were paying far above the market price and were outbidding European buyers for masks.
In early March 2021, members of the German parliament Nikolas Löbel and Georg Nüßlein resigned from the ruling CDU/CSU party over a scandal that had broken about them having allegedly earned six-figure sums from brokering sales contracts for face masks. Löbel also resigned from the parliament. Later Alfred Sauter, a lawmaker in the Bavarian state parliament, was embroiled in the same scandal and resigned from the CSU. The scandal (which came to be known as Maskenaffäre, "mask affair" in Germany) led to a public discussion on transparency and ethics for such dealings. In response to the scandal, the CDU/CSU party tightened its pertaining rules. The previous day, it had performed poorly at two state elections, which observers saw as being connected to the loss in popularity due to the scandal.
Over the weekend of 5 and 6 June, German weekly Der Spiegel reported that uncertified face masks from a burst of orders in early 2020 had been considered by the Health Ministry for distribution among the homeless and those with disabilities. In a press statement on 6 June, Health Minister Spahn sharply rebuked accusations that he had intended to distribute inferior masks to vulnerable groups as "outrageous", saying that the masks in question had been thoroughly tested and fulfilled all the necessary safety requirements. Nevertheless, within less than a week, the controversy grew to be regarded as the main friction point in the ruling Grand coalition as the country was approaching the 2021 German federal election in late September. A Tagesschau analysis pointed out that there were two different standards for medical and labour products; and that it remained unclear whether the masks were actually able to reliably protect their wearer.
Protests against government-imposed restrictions; anti-vaccination
Since April 2020, several protests have been held in Germany in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the initial cause for the protests were governmental measures to combat the pandemic, in particular the lockdown that had been imposed in March and the mask requirement that came into force in late April, they were also fuelled by negative sentiments regarding a future coronavirus vaccine that the German government – as others in the world – portrayed as the conclusive way out of the pandemic. The vaccination sceptics, or "anti-vaxxers", built in part on beliefs of Anthroposophic medicine.
As of May 2020, only a minority of the German population (an estimated 3%) completely rejected any vaccinations, and the percentage of people who responded in May they would take a COVID-19 vaccine was higher compared to the United States (63% in Germany vs 55% in the US). However, that number was down 16 per cent from the month before, where 79% were sure about getting vaccinated. German health officials and other experts have expressed concerns that the pandemic might allow Germany's anti-vaccination movement to grow its support base.
Apart from a common belief that the government measures were a strongly disproportionate diminishing of constitutional basic rights, the aims of the protesters varied widely, corresponding to their often disparate backgrounds: what was described as a "bizarre mix of people" included conspiracy theorists, radical extremists, antisemites, football hooligans and anti-vaxxers as well as "hippie moms" and advocates of alternative medicine. Many protesters vented their anger at Chancellor Merkel, Health Minister Spahn and virologist Drosten, who had risen to prominence during the early stage of the pandemic through his podcasts. The ire of the protesters also regularly targeted Bill Gates, who they suspected to intend to implant microchips for manipulative purposes through a future COVID-19 vaccination. Some protesters likened themselves to the persecuted in Nazi Germany. In response, the city of Munich banned the use of Nazi-era Stars of David, which had been appropriated for protest messages in the preceding weeks, at a rally on 31 May 2020. The self-view of some protesters as freedom fighters in a dictatorship persisted, with a particular case from a demonstration in Kassel in November 2020 garnering wide attention on social media, and being singled out in a strong rebuke by German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and other politicians.
Weekly rallies which became known as Hygienedemos (hygiene demonstrations) established themselves in several cities including Berlin, Leipzig, Munich, Frankfurt and Stuttgart. The Hygienedemo in Berlin on 25 April 2020 attracted around 1,000 participants. During May, attendance at the Hygienedemos generally decreased sharply. This was attributed by observers to a combination of several factors: the relaxation of the lockdown that had been imposed in March; a high level of satisfaction in the general population about the government's handling of the crisis; the impact of counter-protests; and the recognition by the general population that the protests had shown to be used by the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) and violent or extreme right-wing individuals sprouting conspiracy theories, including vegan chef Attila Hildmann. Hildmann was apprehended by police in Berlin in July 2020 and charged with Volksverhetzung.
A resurgence of protests occurred from mid-year as cases began to rise again and the government considered a second lockdown. The group Querdenken emerged as the main force in organising protests in Stuttgart – giving rise to the name Querdenken 711, after the dialling code of the city – and other cities. Two separate rallies on 29 August 2020 drew a total of around 38,000 participants, with police making around 300 arrests. The protest drew particular attention for the attempted storming of the Reichstag, which houses the German parliament, by several hundred people, some of whom were holding insignia from the Reichsbürger movement. There were increasing concerns that the rallies were becoming a platform for far-right, and even extremist, views.
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