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'Querdenker' anti-lockdown leader has COVID

Srinivas Mazumdaru
December 12, 2020

A leader of the "Querdenker" group was reportedly intubated in Leipzig after contracting COVID. Meanwhile, a court ruled that protesters in Dresden may not be allowed to demonstrate against restrictions.

Querdenker demonstrators and police in Bremen
A Querdenker demonstration in Bremen against pandemic-related restrictions Image: Sina Schuldt/dpa/picture alliance

A prominent leader of the "Querdenker" (lateral thinker) movement in the eastern German city of Leipzig contracted COVID-19 and had to be hospitalized, reported Leipziger Volkszeitung (LVZ) newspaper on Saturday.       

The man, who was a co-organizer of the anti-lockdown demonstration in the city on November 7, was apparently brought to the hospital a week after the protest.

"One of the well-known lateral thinkers who demonstrated in Leipzig was intubated eight days later," said the director of the Leipzig University Hospital, Professor Christoph Josten, at a press conference.

"The virus does not differentiate between people, no matter who they are," the doctor added. He did not comment further on the patient's exact state of health.

The Querdenker movement has been responsible for most of Germany's sometimes violent anti-shutdown protests, including a rally in Leipzig last month, which saw over 20,000 attendees.

The founder of the group is Stuttgart-based entrepreneur Michael Ballweg. The full name of the movement put under surveillance — "Querdenker 711" — references Stuttgart's telephone area code.

Querdenker adherents, including coronavirus-skeptics and anti-lockdown protesters, claim the COVID-19 pandemic and long-established laws aimed at halting the pathogen's spread infringe on citizens' liberties.

But critics say the group is primarily supported by right-wing extremists, the Reichsbürger — those who reject the idea of the modern German state, and conspiracy theorists — a claim that Ballweg disputes. 

Germany's domestic intelligence agency, the BfV, said large turnouts of the Querdenker movement harbored "intensified escalation potential."

No to demonstrations

Demonstrations against the latest coronavirus curbs were not expected to go ahead as planned on Saturday after courts banned them due to concerns about public safety. 

Germany's top court on Saturday ruled that a  planned protest against coronavirus restrictions may not take place in the eastern city of Dresden.

"The emergency request has been turned down," said a Constitutional Court spokesperson.

The higher court upheld the ruling and stated that the basic right to life and physical integrity outweighs the basic right to freedom of assembly.

The city of Dresden argued that public safety would be put at risk given the high risk of people contracting the coronavirus in crowd conditions.

The municipal authorities noted that at past Querdenken rallies, participants failed to adhere to social distancing and mask-wearing requirements.

Despite the court decision, local police said they are gearing up for a large-scale operation Saturday, as numerous hooligans and right-wing extremists are expected to appear in the city center despite the ban, as could violent left-wing extremists.

In the central state of Hesse, a higher administrative court rejected an appeal to overturn the ban of a planned mass demonstration in Frankfurt.

Harsher lockdown?

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany continues to rise, increasing by 28,438 to 1,300,516, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Saturday. The reported death toll rose by 496 to 21,466, the tally showed.

On Sunday, Chancellor Angela Merkel is scheduled to discuss a tightening of lockdown restrictions with state leaders amid growing calls for action.

Germany has been in partial lockdown for six weeks, with bars and restaurants closed but shops and schools open. Some regions have already imposed tougher measures.

The discussions on Sunday will likely include whether shops should be closed before the Christmas holiday and the timing of such a move.

Economy Minister Peter Altmaier told the RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland media group on Saturday that hospital intensive care units were beginning to be stretched to their limits and that Germany couldn't wait until after Christmas to react.

"We have to clarify how things will continue now," he said. "Otherwise the pandemic will get completely out of control."

With material from DPA.