As Germany relaxes its quarantine, the number of cases starts to increase again

While it’s undoubtedly annoying to be at home for so long, lockdowns are actually one of the most effective ways to avoid the spread of the coronavirus.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Credit Wikipedia Commons

A gradual reduction in the number of cases and a solid health system are excellent prerequisites for easing lockdown restrictions, but they’re no guarantee against a new rise of infections.

Not long after the country relaxed its lockdown restrictions, Germany is once again reporting that coronavirus infections are growing again in the country. The reproduction rate of the virus is above 1 – suggesting infections are again on the rise after having declined.

The reproduction rate (R0) indicates the number of secondary infections generated from one infected individual, on average. If R0 is 1, then every infected person passes the infection to another person, and the number of new cases remains stable. If it is under 1, then the number of new cases is decreasing, and if it’s over 1, it’s increasing. R0 tells experts the extent to which the coronavirus is being spread among a population. The higher it is, the higher the risk.

It is important to keep the reproduction rate to less than 1, as this means that each person infected is likely to infect less than one person on average. Germany’s rate is now at 1.13 after being below 1 for most of the last three weeks, according to data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI).

Nevertheless, the current reproduction rate involves “a degree of uncertainty” and the rate would have to be observed closely over the coming days, RKI said in a statement. It’s still too soon to draw any definite conclusions, and it could be just statistical variance or simply an anomaly. When we look at data averaged over 3 days, it’s still only a very small bump, so we need to wait a bit before we can draw any conclusions linking quarantine relaxation with an increase in infections.

Germany has the seventh-highest number of confirmed cases in the world. According to RKI, the number of people infected has reached 169,218, with a reported death toll of 7,395.

Chancellor Angela Merkel announced last week a broad relaxation of national restrictions, in agreement with the leaders of Germany’s 16 states. When the announcement was made, the reproduction rate was 0.65. If communities see a rise of 50 or more cases per 100,000 people, lockdowns would have to be reimposed, she said.

Thanks to Merkel’s decision, all shops were allowed to reopen (with social distancing measures), students will gradually return to class and the Bundesliga — Germany’s top football league — will restart next weekend, although without any spectators on any games. Authorities also started lifting restrictions on religious services, which led to a few full churches over the weekend.

“The service was like a fresh start, it was very moving,” Susanne Romberg told the AFP news agency as she exited the Berlin Cathedral, which had held its first mass since lockdown measures when into effect.

Despite many celebrated going back to normal, for others the government’s decision wasn’t sufficient. The fact that not all the restrictions were lifted and that for some activities will take a bit more to restart led to protests in cities across the country, including, Berlin, Frankfurt, and Munich.

Berlin police said 86 people were detained after bottles were thrown at officers during a demonstration in Alexanderplatz, a large central square in former East Berlin. In the western city of Dortmund, police said a man attacked a TV crew during a protest — the third such attack in Germany in the past two weeks.

In line with the protests, German celebrities and influencers have questioned the lockdown in their social media networks, claiming the virus is harmless of part of a global conspiracy. Vegan influencer Attila Hildmann wrote that Germany will soon abandon democracy and that secret forces will install “a new world order.” But aside from conspiracy theories, there are very valid reasons to be concerned about lifting the lockdown too early.

We’ll know soon enough whether Germany’s relaxation is safe or not. In the meantime, it pays to be cautious.

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