Germany opening back up

Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday laid out Germany’s plan to gradually resume public life while maintaining social distancing, a month after Europe’s largest economy effectively shut down in an effort to slow the coronavirus outbreak.

Some small businesses will reopen on April 20 while schools will begin to gradually reopen on May 4. Most businesses have been closed in Germany since a March 16 government order limited economic life to grocery stories, pharmacies, banks, gas stations and other essential services while people were urged to remain at home. 

The German government extended social distancing measures until May 3, which require people to maintain a distance of 1.5 meters (5 feet) and limit public gatherings to just two people with the exception of family members. Large gatherings will remain banned at least until Aug. 31, and religious gatherings remain prohibited until further notice. Germans are also being encouraged to wear masks in public and avoid travel.

Merkel said the country’s strict social distancing measures had prevented the country’s health-care system from becoming overwhelmed, but warned this was a “fragile, partial success.”

“We don’t have a lot of leeway, we have to remain focused and continue,” Merkel said at a news conference Wednesday. “Our consultations therefore decided that we cannot get ahead of ourselves. We have to understand that we must live the virus so long as there’s no medicine or vaccine.” 

Businesses that don’t exceed 800 square meters are allowed to reopen, as well as car dealerships, bike shops and bookstores regardless of their size. Hair salons can reopen on May 4 but workers must wear personal protective equipment. All shops that reopen must adhere to regulations on hygiene and must prevent lines from forming. 

Restaurants will remain closed for dine-in service, but can offer delivery and takeout. Bars, clubs, theaters and concert venues will remain closed. Companies are encouraged to have employees continue working from home whenever possible. 

The German government, in a document outlining its plan, said the goal is to take small steps to restart public life, give people more freedom of movement and restore value-added chains, while at the same time maintaining protective measures to prevent new chains of infection. 

“We all have to remain conscious that the epidemic has not been overcome by slowing the chain of infection -- it continues,” the government said in its outline. “Therefore, we cannot return to the life we were accustomed to before the epidemic. Instead, we must learn how we can live with the epidemic for a long time to come.“

More than 133,000 people have tested positive for the virus in Germany, according to Johns Hopkins University, behind only the U.S., Spain and Italy in terms of total reported infections nationwide. Germany, however, has managed to keep the death toll from the virus lower than other hard-hit countries. At least 3,592 people have died of the virus in Germany. 

Merkel went into self-quarantine in March at her home after having contact with a doctor who tested positive for the virus. She ultimately tested negative for the virus and returned to work in her office earlier this month.