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Germany set to consider relaxing coronavirus restrictions

April 13, 2020

Top German scientists have said that the country could begin to reduce public restrictions after April 19. Chancellor Angela Merkel will take this into account when her government decides how to proceed.

A rail passenger in Cologne
Image: picture-alliance/Geisler-Fotopress/C. Hardt

The top German scientific academy recommended Monday that the country could begin to reduce restrictions on public life in place to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Leopoldina, the German National Academy of Sciences, said the government could begin to safely reopen some schools while still observing hygiene rules. Stores and restaurants could also be reopened, if social distancing regulations are strictly enforced.

Read more: Berlin police bust 16th birthday party amid coronavirus lockdown

The academy also said the government should introduce requirements for citizens to wear face masks in public.

"Every citizen should in the future have this type of protection for their mouth and nose and wear it each time social distancing measures can't be respected," said the academy's head Gerald Haug to German news outlet Der Spiegel.

The academy also said that government offices should gradually reopen, but stressed that private and public travel and the vast majority of public events should only slowly and incrementally be re-introduced.

The Leopoldina's scientists make their recommendations based on three factors: the slowing of new infections, hospitals bulking up their ability to handle additional COVID-19 cases and resuming normal operations, and citizens following the widely known safety measures such as social distancing and wearing masks.

Calls for improved mental health support, domestic violence prevention

The experts noted that the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting social distancing restrictions are placing a heavy, psychological burden on the population. In addition to clear communication from governments, the scientists say that additional resources like hotlines and counseling services should be set up to help people access help and information.

In their report, the scientists explicitly praised measures taken in France, where supermarkets and pharmacies now offer discreet methods to get urgent help escaping domestic violence situations. Countries around the world have seen a rise in domestic violence amid lockdowns.

Chance for green deal?

The scientists also noted that post-crisis economic rebuilding presents a historic opportunity to focus on sustainability: "Setting up an environmentally friendly economy and seeing through a major overhaul of the transport and agricultural sector can significantly boost innovation and growth."

To achieve this, the researchers recommended carbon pricing schemes, promoting hydrogen technology and reforming the electricity market.

Read more: EU lauds new Green Deal as Europe's 'man on moon moment'

App tracking discussed

The institute's experts also lauded South Korea's utilization of smartphone tracking data to monitor the spread of the coronavirus. They called for Germany to adopt a similar app, in which people across the country would voluntarily share health data in order to track coronavirus-related symptoms.

Data shared in such an app should be anonymized and deleted after a certain period, with an independent watchdog set up to monitor data privacy issues.

Read more: Privacy must be guaranteed amid pandemic protection measures

Merkel set to consider relaxing restrictions

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is set to chair a virtual meeting of the leaders of all 16 states on Wednesday, taking into account the advice given by Leopoldina about potentially easing restrictions.

The restrictions as they stand are set to expire this Sunday, April 19. Health Minister Jens Spahn indicated last week that the government is hoping to be able to relax some of the restrictions currently in place after Sunday.

Read more: Coronavirus: The German face mask conundrum

Germans have consistently shown a high compliance with the restrictions, and lockdown measures have been met with general public approval. However, according to surveys carried out by German news agency DPA, discipline has slightly slipped since the restrictions were introduced in March.

According to the survey, which featured a cross-section of the German public, 78% said they comply with regulations in full, 18% only partially and 2% not at all.

At the end of March, the same survey showed that 83% were fully complying, 12% only partially and 2% not at all.

Daily case numbers have begun to slowly reduce. There have been 127,854 confirmed cases in Germany and 3,022 people have died.

ed, kl, br, de/cmb (AFP, dpa)

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