Germany could have to re-impose tough lockdown measures after the infection rate increased when restrictions were eased.
The coronavirus reproduction rate (R) rose back to 1.0 on Monday, meaning that each patient is infecting one other person on average.
The rate, which had previously fallen as low as 0.7, is closely watched in Germany where officials say it must stay below one in order for normal life to resume.
Yesterday it fell back to 0.9, but politicians including Angela Merkel‘s economy minister have warned of a second lockdown if there is a new wave of infections.
Merkel herself has urged Germany’s 16 states not to hurry into easing lockdown restrictions, after some shops were allowed to re-open last week.
This graph shows the daily number of new coronavirus cases in Germany. Today’s figure of 1,304 was a slight increase from yesterday’s 1,144
This chart shows the daily number of deaths, which rose to 202 today. The peak of 315 deaths in a day was recorded on April 16
Germany’s latest figures today showed a slight rise in new cases, with 1,304 new infections after 1,144 yesterday.
The rise from 156,337 cases to 157,641 is a 0.8 per cent increase, the third day in a row that the figure has been below one per cent.
The daily death toll (202) was above 200 for the first time in six days, bringing the total from 5,913 to 6,115.
The R rate is calculated by the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases (RKI), which put the figure at 1.0 on Monday and 0.9 on Tuesday.
The temporary return 1.0 is a cause for concern in Germany, although there is some scepticism about the RKI’s figures.
The state of Bavaria says its own rate is only 0.57, even though it has piled up more cases and deaths than any other part of Germany.
Wolfgang Kubicki, the deputy leader of the centre-right FDP party, has even suggested that the RKI’s figures are ‘politically motivated’.
Two masked German police officers patrol a demonstration in Dresden in eastern Germany today. Wearing masks on public transport is now compulsory everywhere in Germany
Merkel has previously explained how even a small increase in the rate could leave Germany’s hospitals overburdened by coronavirus cases.
Her economy minister Peter Altmaier indicated earlier this month that Germany could be facing a ‘second lockdown’ unless it ‘holds its nerve’.
The state premier of Saarland has warned that a second lockdown would be tougher than the initial measures imposed by Merkel and the 16 states.
‘I’m very worried that at the end of April we will establish that we’ve fallen back into a crisis,’ Tobias Hans told local media at the weekend.
‘Then there would have to be a second lockdown, which would certainly have to be harder than the first.’
Social Democratic MP Karl Lauterbach, who is also an epidemioologist, has warned that steps to lift the lockdown would have to be ‘taken back’ if there is a second wave.
Lothar Wieler, the head of the Robert Koch Institute, has urged Germans to practise rigorous social distancing despite the slight easing of restrictions.
‘Against the background of the easing, let’s ensure we can continue to defend this success we have achieved together,’ he told a regular news conference.
A recovered coronavirus patient donates blood plasma for research into Covid-19 antibodies at a hospital in Erlangen on Monday
‘We don’t want the number of cases to rise again. Let’s, insofar as is possible, stay at home, let’s stick to the reduced contact,’ Wieler said.
‘The number should stay below one, that is the big goal,’ he told the news conference.
Germany allowed some shops to re-open last week including bookstores and car and bicycle dealers.
Retailers are seeking to persuade the government to let all stores operate normally from May 4, saying customers had not stormed back into smaller shops.
Some schools have already re-opened and others will gradually return before the summer holidays, with pupils working in smaller groups.
This means that most children will only be allowed to go to schools in rotating shifts and not on a daily basis.
‘There will be no regular classes before the summer holidays,’ said Stefanie Hubig, head of the ministerial council for education.
Merkel will discuss the next steps for the easing of lockdown restrictions in a telephone conference with the state premiers on Thursday.
But a government spokesman tried to lower expectations ahead of the talks, saying a meeting on May 6 was more likely to yield important decisions.