April 15, 2020: German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday announced first steps in undoing coronavirus restrictions that have plunged the economy into a recession, with most shops allowed to open although schools must stay closed until May 4.
Shops up to 800 square metres (8,600 feet) are allowed to reopen once they have “plans to maintain hygiene”, Merkel told reporters in Berlin, as Germany sees “fragile intermediate success” in slowing the spread of COVID-19.
“We have to proceed with extreme caution,” she said following her afternoon meeting with the heads of Germany's 16 states.
Rules will therefore remain in force preventing more than two people from gathering in public, other than family groups who live together.
Schools will gradually be reopened with priority given to pupils about to take leaving examinations.
Meanwhile, a ban on large public events will be upheld until August 31 to prevent possible mass transmissions of the virus.
And the government urged people to wear face masks when out shopping or on public transport, but stopped short of imposing a requirement like neighbouring Austria.
Reviews of the looser measures with an eye on infection rates would follow every two or three weeks, said Merkel.
Questioned on the limitations on which shops can open, she said “we have to be careful that we don't completely re-enable public activity in city centres, because then chains of infection will arise”.
“I want to thank citizens who have changed their lives, given up on social contacts, who have limited themselves, very warmly.
“Not because they wanted to do the government a favour, but because they wanted to help their fellow people. That's something very strong and important our country is experiencing.”