Health minister positive as Germany breaches coronavirus benchmark

By Rachel More, dpa

German Health Minister Jens Spahn has tested positive for the coronavirus and is self-isolating, the Health Ministry in Berlin announced on Wednesday.

Spahn, 40, who is one of Germany’s most high-profile faces in the country’s fight to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus, had developed only cold symptoms so far, the ministry said.

Spahn’s positive test did not imply that the entire cabinet, which met on Wednesday, would have to go into quarantine, a government spokesman said.

He noted that the cabinet observed social distancing and hygiene precautions aimed at ensuring that quarantine was unnecessary in a case like this. Photos showed Spahn wearing a mask during Wednesday’s meeting.

Family Minister Franziska Giffey took a coronavirus test that came back negative on Wednesday afternoon. She had spoken to Spahn during a Cabinet meeting earlier in the day and participated in a joint press conference with him last Friday.

Germany has registered more than 50 coronavirus infections per 100,000 people over a one-week period, meaning that for the first time the country has breached its own critical limit for tackling the pandemic.

The so-called seven-day incidence rate, which is used by authorities to decide when to tighten restrictions, ticked up to 51.1 for the whole country at midnight, according to data released by the national disease control agency on Wednesday.

The Robert Koch Institute said that 7,595 new cases had been confirmed over a 24-hour period, bringing Germany’s running total of infections to 380,762. The death toll rose by 39 to 9,875.

Germany is currently recording more daily coronavirus cases than at the start of the pandemic in March, although testing has been ramped up significantly since then.

In the country’s most-populous state of North Rhine Westphalia, two-thirds of the western region’s 18 million residents live in a district or city considered high-risk.

The southern state of Bavaria is also battling some severe outbreaks, including in the alpine district of Berchtesgadener Land on the border with Austria.

That area’s 106,000 residents went into lockdown on Tuesday in some of the toughest measures seen in Germany since the onset of the pandemic. Schools and businesses have closed and people can only leave their homes if they have a valid reason, such as for work or essential shopping.

Bavarian premier Markus Soeder announced that if regions surpass 100 cases per 100,000 people over seven days, they will have to limit events to 50 participants, down from 100 people at indoor events and 200 outdoors, and introduce a 9 pm curfew if infections.

He also said that commuters travelling to the state from areas considered high-risk abroad will have to get tested on a weekly basis.

“Our goal is to keep the borders open,” Soeder told lawmakers in the state parliament in Munich.

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.

The capital Berlin has also extended mask rules and introduced night-time restrictions such as an alcohol ban and limits on gatherings.

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