Germany’s Covid-19 Spikes Present Fresh Challenges as Lockdown Lifts

A customer sits with his laptop beside display mannequins at a cafe in Essen last month
A customer sits with his laptop beside display mannequins demonstrating physical distancing at a cafe in Essen last month. Germany has a relatively efficient tracking and tracing system in place. Photograph: Martin Meissner/AP

Several gatherings of extended families in the north-western German city of Göttingen two weekends ago have resulted in a local spike of the coronavirus, which authorities say has highlighted the need to stick to physical distancing rules.

As Germany slowly emerges from its lockdown restrictions, the outbreaks in Göttingen serve to illustrate the challenge of keeping the virus contained, despite the relatively efficient tracking and tracing system in place in the country.

Sixty-eight people of 166 tested had been found to have the virus by Monday, following the parties that took place on 23-24 May. Fifty-nine were from the city and nine from the wider area. One of the people infected has been hospitalised. The results of further tests are outstanding.

While the number may appear relatively low, the ramifications are considerable. Three hundred contact people have so far been identified – that is, those who were in close proximity to those who have been tested positive – and have been ordered to quarantine for 14 days.

“They may not leave their flats, not even to go shopping,” Cordula Dankert, a spokeswoman for the city, said.

Sixty of the contact people live in a high-rise block of flats that is home to 700 residents. Authorities have said while it might be desirable from an epidemiological viewpoint to put the whole block under quarantine, it is not realistic to do so.

“It would be unreasonable to have to isolate the whole house,” Petra Broistedt, the head of Göttingen’s social welfare department, told the Göttinger Tageblatt. “They just have to hope that it will not spread between the flats.”

Of those who tested positive, 57 are children or young people. As a result, the 13 schools that they attend, which have only recently partially returned under strict hygiene regulations, have been forced to implement even tighter measures. If a pupil tests positive, all its fellow pupils as well as their teachers will be sent into quarantine.

So far, Göttingen’s coronavirus crisis management team said it was not clear where the infection originated, but it has established that a meeting by a group of young men in a shisha bar who had attended the family parties played a part in spreading the virus beyond the family groups. The city’s six shisha bars, which according to the current regulations should have been closed, were controlled as a result. One of the bars that was found to be open to customers was subsequently closed by health inspectors.

Authorities have complained they have been hindered by a lack of cooperation from some of those involved. Of 90 people who were asked to come for tests only 15 initially turned up. Those who failed to attend will be notified by post, and will face a fine if they refuse to be tested, they said.

Adding to the complications, one man out of the 60 infected people in the high-rise block under quarantine had repeatedly broken the rules and left his flat. He was picked up by police and public orderly officers on Friday and ordered to speak to a judge, who has since placed him under house arrest at a separate flat owned by the city.

The Göttingen case has received a lot of publicity in Germany, but it is just one of a number of local outbreaks of the virus in recent weeks since the country began relaxing its lockdown rules, including after a gathering of Baptist followers in Frankfurt where at least 200 people were infected, smaller outbreaks at abattoirs across the country and among harvest pickers.

Germany has recorded about 7,100 active cases of coronavirus, according to the Robert Koch Institute, the country’s leading public health body. There have been 8,552 deaths.


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