Children were taught how to practise social distancing on their return to school in Germany today, as the country prepares to lift a raft of lockdown restrictions.
Social distancing was the first lesson on the timetable in Dortmund this morning where pupils lined up at 5ft intervals in the playground.
Angela Merkel this week gave the green light for all German schools to re-open with appropriate hygiene measures, with exact timings to be decided by regional leaders.
Meanwhile Germany’s top diseases institute said the closely-watched R rate had fallen from 0.71 to 0.65, meaning the epidemic is losing pace.
Germany has identified a rate below 1.0 as the key indicator of whether life can return to normal, although Merkel says lockdown measures could be re-imposed at a local level if necessary.
Germany’s top diseases institute said the closely-watched R rate had fallen from 0.71 to 0.65, meaning the epidemic is losing pace.
Pupils were wearing masks at the Petri primary school in Dortmund as they learned about social distancing in the playground.
Watched by a teacher who was also wearing a mask, they stood on markers which had been laid out at a 5ft distance in the school yard.
The children continued to observe the safety distance as they lined up to enter the school buildings for their first lessons this morning.
The pupils were back at school after the state of North Rhine-Westphalia allowed the oldest primary school children to return today, with the rest due to follow on Monday.
Unlike in some countries where the youngest children have been returning first, many German states have given priority to older pupils who are facing exams.
However, every state has done it differently and some pupils were back at school as early as April 23.
Merkel said yesterday that lockdowns would be re-imposed at a local level under an ’emergency mechanism’ if there is a surge in new cases.
The chancellor agreed with state leaders that the threshold would be set at 50 new cases per 100,000 people over seven days.
If the contagion is worse than that, local authorities will be required to impose stay-at-home measures to contain the outbreak, Merkel said.
‘We can afford to take a little courage, but we need to stay cautious,’ she added.
The number of new cases in Germany was above 1,000 today for the first time since last Friday, with 1,284 more infections bringing the total from 164,807 to 166,091.
Merkel has also given permission for shops to re-open and the Bundesliga to resume before the end of May.
The football season could restart as soon as May 15 in the first such resumption in Europe, although all matches will be played behind closed doors.
The exact date of the Bundesliga’s restart will be determined by the league, as players will have to undergo a week-long quarantine before matches resume.
‘I believe we can say that we have the very first phase of the pandemic behind us,’ Merkel said, adding that Germany had ‘achieved the goal’ of slowing the contagion.
A document agreed by Merkel and state leaders said bolder moves were justified because an initial re-opening on April 20 had not led to a surge in new cases.
‘Even after initial steps to open up were introduced from April 20, the number of new infections remained low’ with ‘no new wave of infection,’ the document said.
Only the cultural sector will have to wait, as large events are still cancelled until the end of August.
Borders also remain closed, although there are some calls for the emergency checks to be lifted, according to German media.
Social distancing rules will also remain in place until at least June 5, Merkel said.
Germans will also still be required to wear face masks when shopping or using public transport.
However, they will now be allowed to meet people from one other household at a time.
Germany’s death toll today rose by 123, taking the total from 6,996 to 7,119, a smaller rise than yesterday’s 165 deaths.
The death toll is far lower than in the UK (30,076), Italy (29,684), Spain (25,857) or France (25,809), even though Germany’s population is larger than all of them.
The R rate has now fallen to 0.65, meaning that 100 infected patients pass the virus on to only another 65 people on average.
However, Germany today saw more than 1,000 new cases for the last time since last Friday. Another 1,284 brought the total from 164,807 to 166,091.
Merkel has repeatedly urged caution, warning that it would be a ‘crying shame’ to throw away early successes in containing the deadly disease.
Experts have also urged restraint, with the head of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for disease control warning of possible second or third waves of the virus.
But Germany’s largest state of Bavaria pre-empted yesterday’s discussions by announcing that restaurants would open from May 18 and hotels from May 30.
State premier Markus Soeder said ‘the time has come for a cautious reopening’, pointing to the ‘success’ in containing the spread of the virus.
Lower Saxony, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Saarland and Saxony-Anhalt have also announced their own plans, covering everything from restaurants to care homes.