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  • Daily Berlin news update: Friday, October 23


Daily Berlin news update: Friday, October 23

Covid surge forces government to change tactics, more bars get curfew relief and Poland classified as risk area. Also today: Berlin’s power grid to be renationalised.

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New Corona tests as city shifts resources, more bars granted curfew exemption, more risk regions announced

Rapid Covid-19 testing is to be made available to vulnerable groups as part of a dramatic shift in the city’s approach to the pandemic. With district health authorities overwhelmed by the number of Corona cases, the Senat is redeploying resources towards high-risk patients, focusing on the new tests which are being rolled out in nursing homes, hospitals and homeless shelters starting tomorrow. For the general population, the government is being forced to rely on people following the rules and going into quarantine without help from the authorities. Previously those testing positive could expect their local Gesundheitsamt to assist with contact tracing. According to the Senat the aim is that “everyone will know what to do if they test positive.”

A further 20 bars and restaurants have been granted exemptions from the Senat’s Covid curfew. After a ruling last week that reprieved 11 bars from the 11pm closure rule, Berlin’s Administrative Court today decided that another group of businesses who filed similar appeals can now remain open at night. The ruling means more than 30 bars and restaurants are now exempt from the city’s curfew, though they are still prohibited from serving alcohol after 11pm. The news comes after the Senat’s appeal against the exemptions was rejected by the same court. Undeterred, Berlin’s coalition says it is taking steps to make the curfew legally binding. 

Poland, Switzerland and much of Austria have been classified as Covid-19 risk areas. Starting on Saturday, holidaymakers visiting the three countries will face 14 days in quarantine on their return to Germany as part of the latest tightening of the rules as Corona cases surge across Europe. Announced by the RKI on Thursday, the changes are likely to be particularly disruptive for Berlin’s community of Polish workers, many of whom make regular visits home to see family members. Day commuters between the two countries are not affected by the quarantine requirement, however.

Berlin’s power grid to be renationalised, Gendarmenmarkt Christmas market cancelled, Corona sceptics set to protest 

Berlin’s power grid is to be returned to public ownership following a deal between energy company Vattenfall and the city. Announcing the decision, mayor Michael Müller said that nationalisation would pave the way for faster decarbonisation. “This is very good news for our city,” he told a press conference on Friday. For years Vattenfall and the state of Berlin had been locked in a legal battle over the city’s power network after a decision to hand over its operation to state-owned firm Berlin Energie. Today’s settlement breaks the deadlock, and means local energy infrastructure will now be state-owned. The cost of reacquiring the grid is said to be in the billion euro range.

This year’s Christmas market on Gendarmenmarkt has been cancelled, organisers announced yesterday. The increasing number of new Covid infections was cited as the reason, despite recent assurances by the Senat that markets could take place given safety measures. The Mitte market is one of the main festive events in the city, hosting 900,000 visitors every year. The decision will be devastating for the traders who participate in the annual event, many of whom rely on the Christmas shoppers for their main source of income. The cancellation is expected to result in €22–25 million in lost revenue. 

Members of the so-called “Querdenker” (“lateral thinkers”) movement are set to march again this Sunday in opposition to measures to contain the Covid pandemic. The march comes as international scientists come together for the 2020 World Health Summit, which usually takes place in Berlin but will be held online this year. To mark their opposition, demonstrators plan to gather at Alexanderplatz at 12 noon before marching down Karl-Marx-Allee towards Friedrichshain. A total of 2500 people are expected to attend the demonstration.