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Chronology: How COVID has spread in Germany

December 28, 2021

In January 2020 SARS-CoV-2 first reached Germany. Since then, nothing is as it was before. Here is the story so far.

syringe and bottle with vaccine
Germany is promoting vaccination to stop the spread of the coronavirusImage: Frank Hoermann/SVEN SIMON/picture alliance

The Omicron variant has taken hold with infection figures reaching all-time highs. Laboratories can't keep up, so health officials are limiting COVID PCR testing to health workers and the vulnerable.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach expects the Omicron wave to peak in mid-February with around 600,000 new infections each day.

The German government continues the vaccination drive and a vaccine mandate is being debated by lawmakers.

While some 40 million people have received their booster shot, still just 75% of the population has been fully vaccinated.

Germany's fight against the omicron variant

Here is a look back at how the COVID Pandemic unfolded in Germany.

First wave

On January 27, 2020, Germans' worst fears are confirmed when an employee for a company based in the southern Bavarian town of Starnberg tests positive for SARS-CoV-2. The man is one of several employees who have had regular business contacts with people from China.

On March 8, 2020, the first death linked to COVID-19 is registered. Two days later, the virus is reported in all of Germany's 16 federal states.

The small town of Heinsberg in North Rhine-Westphalia becomes the country's first coronavirus hotspot after a cluster of infections is reported following local Carnival celebrations.

The German government issued worldwide travel warnings, and borders are closed to people from non-EU countries. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas announces a major operation to fly home German citizens stranded abroad.

On March 18, Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke to the German people in a television address to the nation.

Her choice of words could have hardly been more dramatic: "It is serious. So, please take it seriously. Since German reunification — no, since World War II — our country has never faced a challenge that has so urgently required us to pull together in solidarity with each other."

On March 22, 2020, those dramatic words are followed by drastic measures: a partial lockdown. It brought restrictions on public life. Restaurants and cinemas are closed. As are schools and daycare centers for young children. International travel is restricted. Visits to hospitals, care homes and homes for the elderly are no longer permitted. People suffering from serious illnesses and those close to death could  no longer be cared for by their loved ones. Many people began to get used to "remote work": that is, working from home.

COVID-19 ravages the German economy

In April 2020: As the economy drifts into the doldrums, Germany's parliament, the Bundestag, responds by putting together an unprecedented emergency relief package worth €156 billion ($183 billion). Social Democrat Finance Minister Olaf Scholz raises eyebrows with his description of the package: "this is the bazooka we are using to do what has to be done."

Supermarkets stay open — for customers wearing masks. Many people resort to panic buying, hoarding above all ... toilet paper. Some products are even rationed in order to make sure that everybody gets a fair share.


Health Minister Jens Spahn, of the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU), is suddenly seen as the man of the hour.

There is a lot of talk of "new heroes."Supermarket cashiers, for instance. Or doctors and health care specialists in hospitals around the country. During the first months of the pandemic, people take to their balconies each evening to applaud health workers.

Intensive care units in hospitals, meanwhile, are stretched to the limit.

The March lockdown appears to have the desired effect. Infection rates are down. Many people signal that the government is doing a good job. There is plenty of praise, too, from abroad for what is seen as Germany's efficiency and clarity. And Germans seem largely willing to accept the restrictions that are imposed.

After all, they are nowhere near as painful as in Italy, Spain or France. It is still possible to stay in regular contact with a small group of friends and family. And the clampdown on freedom of movement is limited.

May's outbreak among migrant workers in a slaughterhouse shines the spotlight on working and living conditions in Germany.

COVID-19 outbreak in German abattoir

Unlike in other countries, Germany's health system more or less holds up. While Merkel warns that caution remains the best policy, the chief ministers of the 16 states tend to push impatiently for restrictions to be lifted. And they prevail, with a gradual easing of lockdown measures: Schools reopen, restaurants also open for business with strict hygiene standards, and the economy begins to pick up.

On May 4, Germany's first coronavirus lockdown is over after seven challenging weeks.

On June 16, the German government's "Corona-Warn-App" goes into operation. It is a smartphone-based tracing and warning system designed to let users know when they have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

Germany ramps up COVID jabs for kids

Meanwhile, protests against the remaining COVID restrictions become more fierce. A group describing themselves as "Querdenker" ("lateral thinkers" who move against the flow) believes that the restrictions still in place amount to an infringement of their fundamental civil liberties.

At the end of August, police units in Berlin are ordered to move in and break up a demonstration with nearly 40,000 protesters because of infringements of hygiene rules. Some of the demonstrators are Querdenker. Others, though, are from militant far-right movements, including the "Reichsbürger." An attempt is made to occupy the steps of the Reichstag building.

At the same time elsewhere, most people are enjoying the summer — despite the social distancing and the masks. Are they allowing themselves to be lulled into a false sense of security that the worst is perhaps over?

Second wave

As people's minds begin to turn to the autumn, a second wave of the pandemic slowly takes hold. In August, the number of new infections is already running at more than 1,000 a day. By mid-September, that number has doubled.

At the end of September, Merkel is warning that, if nothing is done, Germany could look forward to a Christmas with as many as 20,000 new infections a day.

But things move even faster. Berlin imposes a curfew in October. And on November 2, 2020, a new package of measures known as "Lockdown Light" is announced. Meetings in public are limited to two households and a maximum of 10 people. Many businesses in the catering, hospitality and tourism sectors again have to close down, as they had in spring. The economy is still on track, and, for the time being, at least, schools are open.

The turn of the year begins with a vaccination rollout in Germany based on the vaccine developed by BioNTech-Pfizer. But the campaign is already two weeks behind the one launched in the UK. The EU is accused of lacking the necessary urgency to get the vaccine approved. So, vaccination efforts get of to a slow start. The logistics are a challenge. Production stalls. Now, Germany no longer stands as a model for how to combat the virus.

Third wave

On January 6, 2021, the German government sees no alternative to the next strict lockdown. Restrictions are stepped up and, in many instances, extended. Speaking in Berlin, Merkel says she believes that "this pandemic is a once-in-a-century event, a natural catastrophe of sorts."

In April, Germany mourns a total of 80,000 COVID deaths.

But the lockdown begins to have an impact. Toward the summer, the number of infections falls. The third wave does indeed seem to be broken. The vaccination progress becomes tangible. Merkel has her first COVID-19 shot. Once again, and step-by-step, restrictions are removed.

Is Germany's omicron plan too little, too late?

Fourth wave

June 2021: The government promises that by the autumn all German residents will have had the opportunity to be vaccinated. (You can find the vaccination figures here on the German "Impfdashboard")

German virologists have however warned, that over 85% of the population would have to be fully vaccinated for a "herd immunity" to set against the delta variant. Only full inoculation offers protection against severe symptoms.

Again, travel restrictions are being implemented. (Here you can find the German government's travel information in English)

With most children not viable for vaccination, the debate over whether or not schools will turn into coronavirus hotspots has been rekindled.

July 2021 while many areas of Germany roll back restrictions amid low COVID-19 case numbers, the country's incidence rate began to rise steadily again.

Germany's public health body, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), registers a steady increase from the low-point of 5 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants over a seven-day period at the beginning of the month.

Politicians in Germany and business organizations warn against re-introducing curbs. Election campaigning ahead of the September vote and the subsequent period of government formation delay decision-making.

Vaccination progress is stalling. By December some 70% of people in Germany have been vaccinated. Some people are refusing to get their shot. While children above the age of 5 can get their jabs starting November.

The new government introduces mandatory vaccination for health workers, a general vaccine mandate remains under discussion.

This article has been translated from German. It has been updated to reflect current developments.

A brief history of pandemics

While you're here: Every Tuesday, DW editors round up what is happening in German politics and society. You can sign up here for the weekly email newsletter Berlin Briefing, to stay on top of developments as Germany enters the post-Merkel era.

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