Germany starts reopening up some businesses and schools

The virus is under control but many restrictions remain

Germany on Monday enters a new phase in its battle against the coronavirus pandemic, with some businesses to open their doors after a month of being closed, news wires reported.Chancellor Angela Merkel and regional state premiers announced the decision to reopen last week, though they have been careful to cast it as no more than a cautious first step.

Smaller and medium-sized shops with a floor area of less than 800 metres squared will reopen on Monday, but the country's 16 states have opted to open up to varying degrees and at different times. In some states such as the capital Berlin, reopening will take a little longer.

Car dealerships, bicycle dealers and bookstores of all sizes will also be allowed to reopen, as well as zoos in some states.

Schools will open their doors to older pupils sitting and preparing for exams in Saxony, Berlin and Brandenburg. Other states were set to open schools later this week, with some waiting until early May.

Meanwhile, a debate dragged on about childcare for younger children, with a working group due to begin meeting from Monday to discuss a gradual reopening of nurseries across the country.

A ban on gatherings of more than two people and a requirement to stand more than 1.5 metres apart from others in public areas remain in force. That means that hairdressers, initially deemed an essential business, cannot open until at least 4 May.

Cultural venues, bars, leisure centres and beauty salons will also remain closed for the time being, while large-scale public events such as concerts and football matches have been banned until 31 August.

Economics Minister Peter Altmaier called for more unity among the states. "We can't run around like a bunch of chickens outdoing each other by tightening and loosening [restrictions]" he told the Sunday edition of Bild newspaper."If we keep our nerve now, we can avoid a second lockdown," said Altmaier. "This is why joint action by the federal and state governments is so important."

In Saxony, where a ban on religious services was set to be lifted earlier than elsewhere, residents will from Monday be required by law to wear a face covering in shops and on public transport. The cities of Wolfsburg and Jena have followed suit, though Germany's federal government has so far stopped short of making masks a nationwide requirement.

With 139,897 confirmed cases and 4,294 deaths as of Sunday, Germany has been one of the countries worst hit by COVID-19, but also one of the quickest to react. On Friday, the Robert Koch Institute for public health announced that the rate of infection, the number of people each ill person contaminates, had dropped below one for the first time, leading Health Minister Jens Spahn to declare the virus "under control".

More on this subject: Coronavirus

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