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Berlin: Shops to Open on Wednesday, Masks to be Mandatory on Trains, Buses

The Berlin Senate decided to change some of the restrictions that have been in place since March in order to curb the spread of the Coronavirus in the German capital. One rule was even tightened.

It took the Berlin Senate six days to decide on the new Corona rules it wants to implement. The federal government and Germany’s federal states, including the city state of Berlin, had agreed on easing some of them. But the states have the power to change restrictions the way they please.

With 3.7 million inhabitants, Berlin is the largest city in Germany. As the German capital, it is also the capital of protests. It has the largest public transport system in the country and many department stores. The Senate wanted to consider these and other aspects.

New Corona Rules for Berlin

On Tuesday, some new (and old) Corona rules were announced:

  • The contact restrictions that took effect on March 23rd, 2020, will remain in place, meaning residents can leave their homes under certain conditions only. They can go to work, shop, take walks, do training or walk their dogs, as long as they keep a distance of at least 1.5 meters (5 feet). Each person may be with one person who lives in another household or with members of their own household. Sitting on benches or on the grass in parks is allowed under the same conditions, picnics are banned. Visiting one’s life partner is allowed.
  • Wearing masks or similar protections on nose and mouth will be mandatory in Berlin’s public transport from April 27th, 2020. In this regard, Berlin is following other cities and federal states. But in shops, masks are only recommended. This is where the city state of Berlin differs from Bavaria and others.
  • Shops of certain kinds and sizes in Berlin may reopen on April 22nd, 2020. This includes shops of a size of up to 800 square meters (8,600 square feet), but also large stores which mark an area of this size for customers. The same applies to shops in Berlin’s malls. Retail businesses are supposed to allocate about 20 square meters (215 square feet) for each customer.
  • Hairdressers are allowed to reopen on May 4th.
  • Protests with up to 20 people may be approved by the authorities starting on April 22nd.
  • On April 27th, outdoor markets and similar events will be allowed to take place if the distance rules are being followed.
  • Important family events such as weddings, funerals and christenings with up to 20 people are possible.
  • Prayer services and other gatherings with up to 50 participants will be allowed from May 4th. The distance rule applies.
  • The Opera and other music venues will definitely remain closed until the end of July. Berlin’s state-owned museums and galleries may open on May 4th under the usual conditions. The same applies to public libraries.
  • Large events with more than 5,000 people are forbidden until October 24th 2020. Events with 1,000 to 5,000 people are banned until August 31st.
  • Both Berlin zoos are allowed to open, but only the outdoor areas will be accessible. The Botanical Garden may reopen on April 27th.
  • Schools are allowed to open from April 27th. Details about the order in which grades are returning, and other details, will be announced.

Regarding the reopening of shops, Berlin is going farther than most other federal states in Germany. Many businesses in the capital had demanded liberal rules.

No Distance on Public Transport

Governing Mayor Müller said a lot had been achieved in the past weeks. But there was no all-clear. People who believed they could deal with the rules recklessly needed to remember what the restrictions were about. “The spread of the virus has to to be controlled”, Müller stated.

Governing Mayor Michael Müller explained the new Corona rules.

A good way of dealing with the situation had been found, Müller said. He expected more people to use the public transport again. Keeping one’s distance here was not possible. Because of the close encounters on trains and buses, masks or other mouth and nose covers needed to be used. At this stage, there are no fines for individuals who do not wear masks or cover their mouths and faces.

Radicals Intend to Stage May 1st Protest

Some aspects are quite complicated, including the protest issue. The Greens and ‘The Left’ had insisted on lifting the existing ban in some way, which is what happened. Up to 20 people may stage protests, in some cases. But there are two problems:

  • On May 1st, 2020, radical left-wingers intend to demonstrate against pretty much everything, including the state that gives them freedom of speech, the right to protest and even social welfare. Those rallies require a huge police presence because many participants usually turn violent. In normal times, there are also peaceful Labor Day rallies, organized by unions. But those will definitely not take place this year. The question is: Will radicals try to stage their protest on May 1st in spite of the ban?
  • On May 22nd, 2020, the last day of Ramadan, antisemites intend to participate in the annual Al Quds March. It is a protest against Israel during which hatred towards Jews has always been openly displayed. There are demands for a general ban of this march. The question is whether it would be legally possible to forbid it. Some are hoping the Corona bans, should they still apply on May 22nd, might resolve the issue.

Distance Rules Remain in Place

What the contact restrictions are concerned, the Senate discussed easing them too, according to participants of the discussion quoted in German-language publications. But Berlin’s Health Senator Dilek Kalayci rejected those calls, saying the Coronavirus pandemic was far from over.

Regarding masks, the issue is that there are not enough of them. While hospitals and the Berlin police seem to be covered now, consumers can hardly find masks in pharmacies or anywhere. For that reason, the Senate avoided the word ‘mask’ in its official announcement. Scarfs or similar items may be used on public transport, instead of actual masks.

On April 30th, Chancellor Merkel and the First Ministers from the federal states are scheduled to have their next phone conference, in order to reassess the situation. They will possibly change the Corona rules again. If the numbers look better by then, they might lift more restrictions and bans. On the other hand, the rules might be tightened in case the situation deteriorates.

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