German district locked down as second wave gathers pace

By Rachel More, dpa

Some 106,000 residents of a southern German district bordering Austria have been ordered to stay at home unless absolutely necessary, in some of the toughest measures seen nationwide since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

The regional lockdown in Berchtesgadener Land came into effect at 2 pm (1200 GMT) on Tuesday, after infection rates skyrocketed in the picturesque mountain district.

The small Austrian town of Kuchl, on the other side of the border from Berchtesgadener Land, was sealed off last week due to the accelerating spread of the virus there.

On Tuesday, the number of new cases announced in Berchtesgadener Land stood at 236.01 per 100,000 residents over seven days – far above the set benchmarks of 35 and 50, but slightly down on the 272.8 per 100,000 recorded on Monday.

The local authorities said on Tuesday they were unable to pinpoint the source of the outbreak, describing it as a diffuse event. They ruled out a private party as the cause.

In the district, schools, nurseries, leisure centres and restaurants have all been forced to close. Public gatherings have been banned, with the exception of religious services, and hotels are to close, unless offering accommodation for people travelling on business.

Valid reasons for leaving the home include going to work, shopping for essentials, and going out for sport or fresh air, although this can only be done with members of the same household.

The measures are initially to stay in place for two weeks.

The lockdown forced hundreds of holidaymakers to leave the alpine district. The local tourism authority estimated that 2,500 people had planned to spend the autumn school break near the area’s Watzmanm Mountain and its picturesque Koenigssee lake.

The surge in cases makes Berchtesgadener Land Germany’s worst regional outbreak currently, although cases have been on the rise across the country, fuelling concerns that a track-and-trace strategy used by health authorities will soon no longer be workable.

Bavarian Premier Markus Soeder has to date ruled out placing a cordon around coronavirus hotspots, although the measures in place in Berchtesgaden are so strict as to be almost equivalent to a cordon.

Germany is now registering more daily coronavirus cases than at the peak of the pandemic in March, although testing has been drastically ramped up since then.

As of Tuesday, the country had registered a total of 373,167 infections, an increase of 6,868 on the previous day, according to the Robert Koch Institute for disease control. The death toll rose by 47 to reach 9,836.

Limits on group gatherings have returned to areas considered high-risk, including a number of major cities, such as the capital Berlin.

On Tuesday, the city government decided that Berliners would be required to wear masks in public areas where a distance of 1.5 metres can not be kept from others, according to dpa sources.

This includes at markets, on high streets and while queueing.

Berlin recently introduced a night-time curfew, forcing bars and restaurants to close between 11 pm and 6 am and banning alcohol sales during that time.

However, a court partially overturned the curfew last week, ruling that establishments should be allowed to stay open late while leaving the alcohol ban in place.

A limit of 25 has been placed on outdoor gatherings, with the limit on indoor gatherings put at the members of a single household plus at most five others.

In a city famous for its nightlife, officials have appealed to young people to stick to the rules, with parties and socializing partially blamed for the surge in cases.

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