By Rodrigo Zuleta
Berlin, Apr 19 (efe-epa).- Germany is braced to take its first steps toward what has been dubbed “a new normal” in times of coronavirus with the relaxation of some of the restrictive measures in place to stop the transmission of the disease.
Commercial spaces less than 800 meters squared will be permitted to reopen in some federal states from Monday. Others will open a little later. Schools will also gradually resume activities, albeit with restrictions in place.
In the capital Berlin, some secondary school students will sit their finals and from 4 May other age groups will return to the classroom but class sizes will be reduced.
The fight against the pandemic, according to Chancellor Angela Merkel, has not yet been won but Germany has succeeded in slowing its infection rate to a point that — currently — will not overwhelm the healthcare system.
The gradual easing of restrictions marks a new chapter in the country’s campaign against Covid-19, which began when Germany was alerted to its first case on 27 January.
The outbreak properly took hold a month later when new cases were registered in Bavaria, Baden-Württenberg and North Rhine Westphalia.
The first federal-level restrictions came into effect on 8 March and later reinforced on 16 and 23 March.
The package of measures approved on 23 March, which have some variation from federal state to federal state, is what has helped slow the virus, experts say.
Germany would have registered more than 200,000 positive cases by last week had it not strengthened its lockdown on 23 March, according to a model developed by the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics.
In reality Germany has managed to keep its infection rate lower than the vast majority of affected countries, mainly by advising that people avoid unnecessary contact.
Its citizens have been allowed to leave their house but only with the people they live with or with groups of no more than two people. Unlike countries like Spain, they are not restricted to buying food or pharmaceuticals, but can go for a walk or exercise in the open air.
Authorities recommend that people maintain a social distance of around 1.5 meters, government advice that is expected to remain in place as the country eases its lockdown.
The virus’ basic reproductive number in Germany is currently at R-0.7, which means a carrier infects 0.7 people on average. At the outset of the pandemic, Germany has a rate of R-5.
At the beginning of March it had dropped to R-3, then by 8 April it was R-1.3 and by last week R-1.2.
The main task for German authorities now is to make sure that the rate does not creep up past R-1.1, which could mean that hospitals would be over-stretched by October.
It is for this reason that the relaxation of restrictions will be tentative and many measures will remain in place, which has led Vice-Chancellor and Finance Minister Olaf Scholz to describe the next phase as entering a “new normal.”
Bavaria’s Minister-President Markus Söder has said he cannot imagine Munich’s world-renowned Oktoberfest going ahead in the autumn as usual.
Large public gatherings have been banned in Germany until at least 31 August and the measure will likely be extended.
There are things that will not return to how they were before until a vaccine is found, which could take as long as two years.