Germany to Open Playgrounds, Churches in Cautious Easing

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(Bloomberg) -- Germany will allow playgrounds, zoos, museums and churches to reopen but will maintain travel restrictions and most other curbs on public life amid concerns about reigniting the spread of the coronavirus.

Large events, restaurants and daycare facilities will remain off limits for the time being, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday after meeting with the heads of Germany’s 16 states. Bigger moves to ease the country’s lockdown will be evaluated at a gathering on May 6, when the policy makers will have more reliable data on the effects of initial steps that started on April 20.

“The question of whether you can travel in Europe isn’t on the agenda,” Merkel said. “We have achieved a lot in the last few weeks,” but as long as there’s no vaccine or treatment, “it’s imperative to be cautious.”

With nearly 160,000 cases -- the fourth-highest in Europe -- Merkel is wary of easing controls that helped slow the pandemic. The concern is that relaxing containment measures too soon could open the door to a second wave of infections and make the crisis deeper and longer.

Germany’s Easing Timeline
  • April 20: small shops, hardware stores and car dealerships allowed to open
  • May 4: Partial school reopenings, hairdressers can resume
  • May 6: Merkel and state premiers to consider bigger easing steps
  • After Aug. 31: large events such as soccer matches, concerts and festivals may be allowed

Economic worries have intensified amid daily reports of dire figures, with Germany on Thursday reporting a record 373,000 surge in jobless claims in April, despite widespread state wage support designed to stem mass layoffs.

A push by the auto industry for state-funded sales incentives could be part of a broader program to revive the economy, Merkel said, adding that no decision will be made at a meeting with industry executives on Tuesday.

Merkel and her team have won widespread praise for their response to the virus, which appears to have prevented the outbreak taking hold to the same extent as in European peers like Italy and Spain.

But the difficulty in controlling the disease was evident in the latest figures. New cases in Germany rose by 1,627 in the 24 hours through Thursday morning, taking the total to 161,539, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The death rate inched up to 4% from 3.95% a day earlier.

“It’s a marathon that we don’t know how long it will last,” Markus Soeder, Bavaria’s premier, said alongside Merkel.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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