Health minister urges caution as Berlin opens beer gardens


BERLIN — Germany’s health minister urged citizens Friday to remain cautious as large parts of the country prepared to relax pandemic restrictions ahead of the Pentecost weekend.

Still, Jens Spahn said the fall in coronavirus cases and the steady rise in vaccination rates were encouraging.

“The current numbers should make us feel upbeat,” he told reporters in Berlin.

Most of Germany’s 400 cities and counties had a weekly case number below the threshold of 100 per 100,000 inhabitants that triggered strict lockdown measures.

The country’s disease control agency reported 8,769 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases Thursday and 226 deaths. The country has recorded more than 3.6 million cases since the start of the outbreak, and 87,128 deaths.

Beer gardens, cafes and restaurants in Berlin and elsewhere were preparing Friday to serve customers outdoors for the first time in months, provided they present a negative COVID-19 test or a vaccination certificate.

State authorities have pushed vigorously to reopen hospitality and tourism for the three-day weekend, despite misgivings from federal officials.

“I can only keep saying and advocate that we keep going step by step,” Spahn said. He suggested that authorities should wait several weeks between reopening steps and citizens should keep wearing masks and meeting friends outdoors.

Spahn added that the German government is closely watching the spread in Britain of a virus variant first detected in India, and will decide during the course of the day whether to impose further travel restrictions for the U.K.

The head of the Robert Koch Institute, Lothar Wieler, said the disease control agency hopes to have clarity in the coming weeks whether vaccinations are less effective against the Indian variant.

About 40% of the population in Germany has received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine so far. About one in eight — more than 10 million people — have received both doses, according to official figures.

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