Distancing curbs seen as working: German officials

Riot police using a water cannon to break up a demonstration against Germany's coronavirus restrictions, near Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, on Wednesday. Two weeks into a partial shutdown, contagion rates in the country are still nearly triple the level
Riot police using a water cannon to break up a demonstration against Germany's coronavirus restrictions, near Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, on Wednesday. Two weeks into a partial shutdown, contagion rates in the country are still nearly triple the level the authorities have determined to be manageable. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BERLIN • The number of new Covid-19 infections in Germany is still far too high but there are signs that social distancing measures are working, health officials said, a day after protesters clashed with the police in central Berlin over government measures to curb the spread of the virus.

The head of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases, Professor Lothar Wieler, said yesterday he was optimistic the positive trend of case numbers stabilising would continue, though it is unclear how long measures to slow the pandemic will have to remain in place.

The head of RKI's surveillance unit, Dr Ute Rexroth, added that there are indications that Germany's restrictions are working, as the number of new infections has stabilised.

Confirmed coronavirus cases in the country rose by 22,609 to 855,916, the biggest increase in six days, RKI data showed yesterday, while the death toll rose by 251 to 13,370.

Germany imposed a month-long "lockdown light" on Nov 2 to rein in a second wave that is sweeping much of Europe.

Two weeks into the partial shutdown - which closed bars and restaurants but kept schools and most shops open - the country's contagion rates are still nearly triple the level the authorities have determined to be manageable, raising the prospect of tougher curbs overshadowing Christmas and New Year festivities.

On Wednesday, the police unleashed water cannon and pepper spray in Berlin to disperse thousands of protesters angry over the restrictions.

At least 365 arrests were made and 10 police officers injured as around 5,000 activists gathered at the city's Brandenburg Gate, after the government banned rallies outside Parliament due to fears of violence.

After repeated warnings for the crowd to put on face coverings went unheeded, the police spent several hours trying to break up the demonstration.

Protesters threw bottles, stones and fireworks at officers and attacked them with pepper spray, the police said, prompting them to "use physical force and pepper spray and arrest some of the attackers".

The demonstration mirrored similar protests seen across Europe against restrictions which opponents see as a violation of their civil rights, despite government warnings about the need to stop the spread of infection.

"We don't need emergency measures," said Mr Achim Ecker, a demonstrator in his 50s who travelled to Berlin from neighbouring Brandenburg state. "I believe in our own immune systems."

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 20, 2020, with the headline 'Distancing curbs seen as working: German officials'. Print Edition | Subscribe