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Germany relaxes lockdown for playgrounds, churches and zoos

por Terrell Dumont (2020-05-31)


2 weeks agoBERLIN (AP) - German authorities agreed Thursday to reopen playgrounds, churches and cultural institutions such as museums and zoos that have been shuttered because of the coronavirus pandemic, but they postponed a decision on whether to relax the rules for restaurants, hotels and kindergartens.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said that while there would be regional differences because of Germany's federal structure, the overall goal remains ensuring the health system can cope with the country's outbreak.

"So far, we have managed to succeed in doing so," Merkel told reporters after a meeting with the governors of Germany's 16 states. "We have all together achieved a lot in recent weeks."

Germany, a country of 83 million people, recorded more than 162,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 6,563 deaths in all, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University. That is about a quarter the number of virus-related deaths reported in Britain and France, even though the three countries have similar numbers of confirmed cases.

Over the past week, Germany recorded between 1,000 and 1,500 new cases a day, down from 2,000 the previous week.

The country's success in flattening the curve of infections has sparked calls for its lockdown to end, particularly from businesses that have been forced to close because of social distancing measures.






A woman with a face mask leaves a train at the main station in Muenster, western Germany, Thursday, April 30, 2020. To fight the coronavirus pandemic, Germany ordered social distancing, mandatory face masks when shopping and in public transport. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)


Jobless figures released Thursday showed unemployment in Germany rose by 308,000 to over 2.6 million in the past month. The jobless rate in April stood at 5.8%, up from 5.1% in March.

Employers avoided the bigger layoffs seen in other countries by taking advantage of Germany´s short-work program, which allows companies in distress to receive state funds if they hold onto employees rather than letting them go.

Labor Minister Hubertus Heil said companies registered about 10.1 million employees for short work - more than a fifth of the country´s workforce. Restaurants, bars and hotels were particularly hard hit, with 93% of those employed in the sector now in short work, he said.

The governor of North Rhine-Westphalia state, Armin Laschet, told public broadcaster ZDF that the economic downturn was "a very, very high price that we´ve talked about far too little in recent weeks."

Merkel said the federal and state governments wouldn't make a decision on reopening hotels and restaurants at their next meeting on May 6, which will focus on further relaxing the rules for schools, childcare centers and sports facilities.

"Caution is required, as well as sticking to hygiene measures," she said.

Federal and state authorities also agreed Thursday to extend a ban on large sports events, concerts and festivals until at least Aug. 31.

But Germany's hospitals will be allowed to resume routine operations that had been ordered put on hold last month, after data showed a sufficient reserve of intensive care unit beds.

Still, like elsewhere, medical personnel in the country are feeling the strain.

"The burden is certainly great as we have to deal with a highly infectious disease every day, and the treatment regime is not clearly defined," said Dr. Daniel Heidenkummer, who oversees the treatment of COVID-19 patients at the InnKlinikum Altoetting, near Germany´s border with Austria.

The hospital has treated almost 600 patients with severe illness resulting from the coronavirus since early March.

Restrictions on visitors mean that staff members have to spend more time tending to the emotional welfare of patients, a burden that would normally be borne largely by friends and family, Heidenkummer said.

Merkel acknowledged the sacrifices made by many Germans because of the lockdown. But she defended the virologists and public health experts who have been providing seemingly contradictory advice to the government, noting that there is always an element of uncertainty to scientific research.

"That´s why science is so exciting, because you never do the same thing twice," Merkel said, citing her own experience as a physicist before entering politics more than 30 years ago.

"We politicians are there to draw conclusions," she said.

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Matthias Schrader in Munich contributed to this report.

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People in a shopping gallery wear face masks in Muenster, western Germany, Thursday, April 30, 2020. To fight the coronavirus pandemic, Germany ordered social distancing, mandatory face masks when shopping and in public transport. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)







In this Wednesday, April 29, 2020 photo a nurse puts on protective gear at the start of a shift at the intensive care units of the hospital in Muehldorf am Inn, Germany. The whole hospital was converted for the treatment of corona patients. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)







Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives for a press conference after the video conference with the prime ministers of the German states, in Berlin, Thursday April 30, 2020. (Kay Nietfeld/pool via AP)







An employee wearing a face mask to protect against the spread of the new coronavirus attaches a Mercedes emblem as he works on a Mercedes-Benz S-class car at the Mercedes plant in Sindelfingen, Germany, Thursday, April 30, 2020. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)







An employee wearing a face mask to protect against the spread of the new coronavirus works on Mercedes-Benz S-class cars at the Mercedes plant in Sindelfingen, Germany, Thursday, April 30, 2020. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)







In this Wednesday, ???????? April 29, 2020 photo a man walks in front of the European Central Bank in Frankfurt, Germany. The European economy shrank by 3.8% in the first quarter, the most since records began, as business activity was frozen by shutdowns aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus. It was the biggest drop since statistics started in 1995 and bigger than the plunge in the midst of the global financial crisis in the first quarter of 2009 after the bankruptcy of U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)







FILE - In this Saturday, April 18, 2020 file photo, a pilot and crew members of South African Airways go through the security check in Frankfurt, Germany. Due to the coronavirus outbreak many flights have been cancelled and some airports have grounded their planes. (AP Photo/Michael Probst, File)







A sign at a shopping gallery asks visitors to wear face masks in Muenster, western Germany, Thursday, April 30, 2020. To fight the coronavirus pandemic, Germany ordered social distancing, mandatory face masks when shopping and in public transport. Words on the information sign read 'Caution! Access only with a face mask!'. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)







Graffiti depicts US President Trump, right, and China's President Xi Jinping kissing each other with face masks on a wall in the public park Mauerpark in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, April 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)







In this Wednesday, April 29, 2020 photo a nurse assists a COVID-19 patient at one of the intensive care units of the hospital in Muehldorf am Inn, Germany. The whole hospital was converted for the treatment of coronavirus patients. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)







In this Wednesday, April 29, 2020 photo medical staff puts on protective gear at the start of a shift at the intensive care units of the hospital in Muehldorf am Inn, Germany. The whole hospital was converted for the treatment of corona patients. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)







In this Wednesday, April 29, 2020 photo a nurse wears protective gear and masks during a shift at the intensive care units of the hospital in Muehldorf am Inn, Germany. The whole hospital was converted for the treatment of corona patients. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)







In this Wednesday, April 29, 2020 photo a nurse prepares medication for a COVID-19 patient at one of the intensive care units of the hospital in Muehldorf am Inn, Germany. The whole hospital was converted for the treatment of corona patients. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)







In this Wednesday, April 29, 2020 photo a nurse briefs her colleague at a COVID-19 intensive care units of the hospital in Muehldorf am Inn, Germany. The whole hospital was converted for the treatment of corona patients. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)







In this Wednesday, April 29, 2020 photo nurses and a doctor talk to a COVID-19 patient at one of the intensive care units of the hospital in Muehldorf am Inn, Germany. The whole hospital was converted for the treatment of corona patients. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)







In this Wednesday, April 29, 2020 photo a nurse puts on protective gear at the start of a shift at the intensive care units of the hospital in Muehldorf am Inn, Germany. The whole hospital was converted for the treatment of corona patients. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)







The head of the Robert Koch Institute, Lothar H. Wieler, left, and German Health Minister Jens Spahn, right, attend a joint press conference in Berlin, Germany, Friday, April 17, 2020 on the current situation in Germany amid the new coronavirus pandemic. (John MacDougall/Pool Photo via AP)







Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks during a press conference after the video conference with the prime ministers of the German states, in Berlin, Thursday April 30, 2020. (Kay Nietfeld/pool via AP)