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Germany weighs curbs on private parties

August 24, 2020

Private parties have been blamed for fueling a rise in COVID-19 cases across Germany. While some states are calling for federal restrictions on such gatherings, those with lower rates of infection disagree.

A disco ball at a party in Berlin
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/C. Soeder

Germany's government is set to meet with state health ministers on Monday to discuss ways to address a steady rise in coronavirus infections.

A main topic on the agenda will be possible federal curbs on private parties and celebrations. German Health Minister Jens Spahn said a conversation on the issue was necessary after the government found that, along with people returning from vacation, parties were helping fuel a resurgence of the virus.

Currently, each state has its own limit on the number of people who can attend small private parties and events at large venues. Hamburg, in the country's north, caps private and public events at venues at 50 people, while Berlin currently allows up to 500 people at gatherings. In Germany's most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, the limit for events such as weddings has been set to 150.

Read more: Young partygoers defy coronavirus rules for Berlin nightlife

Risky raves in Berlin

Private parties 'a great danger'

As infection rates climb across the country, a growing chorus of politicians and public health officials has begun sounding the alarm on parties.

"Private festivities are a great danger," Ursula Nonnemacher, health minister of the state of Brandenburg, told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung (FAS) newspaper.

Ralph Brinkhaus, parliamentary bloc leader for Chancellor Angela Merkel's ruling CDU/CSU conservatives, said that "unfortunately since the start of summer a certain recklessness has spread."

"We must not risk that day care centers and schools will close again and that children are forced to remain at home for weeks because we have accepted higher infection rates due to lax rules at family parties," Saskia Esken, co-leader of the junior coalition partner Social Democrats, told FAS.

Read moreBerlin parties as pandemic threatens to return

Enforcing corona rules in Berlin

German states not united

The German capital has struggled to crack down on illegal parties, which have replaced shuttered clubs in the city's nightlife scene. Now health officials in Berlin are pushing for a unified federal policy on private gatherings.

"At the moment we can see in Berlin that leisure activities and private celebrations are driving up the infection rate," Berlin Health Minister Dilek Kalayci told FAS. "The goal is a uniform nationwide regulation for private celebrations and major public events." 

The states of Hamburg, Bremen, Lower Saxony and Rhineland-Palatinate would back a federal policy, according to a survey by Germany's press agency dpa.

Read more: Coronavirus: Study reveals how most Germans get infected

But several states have come out against imposing regulations at a federal level. Among them were Schleswig-Holstein and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, which have had relatively low infection rates during the pandemic.

"At first glance, a uniform nationwide solution may appear advantageous, but it fails to take into account the often very different development of infection incidence within Germany," a spokesman for Schleswig-Holstein said.

In other states, such Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Saarland, authorities are reluctant to tighten the current regulations. Moreover, in Thuringia, a relaxation of coronavirus-related rules is to come into force at the end of August in response to low infection rates there.

Germany registered some 2,034 coronavirus infections on Saturday, the highest tally since late April. The reported death toll rose by seven to 9,267.

Test concert in Germany

jcg/nm (dpa, Reuters)