Flensburg curfew: Germany battles the UK variant
From Saturday evening, the German town of Flensburg, located in Schleswig-Holstein, will be placed under an evening curfew, or Ausgangssperre, as authorities attempt to tackle a rise in cases linked to the UK variant, Mutante B.1.1.7.
Photo: "Das Rote Schloss am Meer (Flensburg-Mürwik Juli 2014), Bild 07.JPG"by Soenke Rahn is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
The new restrictions prohibit citizens to leave their homes between the hours of 9pm and 5am, with some exceptions being made for travel to work or medical appointments. Individuals will no longer be allowed to meet people from another household, unless visiting someone in hospital or care facility, or in the case of children with separated parents. All other national lockdown guidelines remain in force.
Whilst the Ausgangssperre should only be lasting a week, it may be lengthened, should authorities judge infection numbers too high by the end of the seven-day period. Recent figures suggest that as many as one in every three coronavirus infections detected in the town are now linked to the UK variant. As of Thursday, the incidence rate stood at 185, compared to the national average of 57.1, indicative of a “worrying” trend, according to the Mayor of Flensburg.
This has led to grave warnings from Klaus Deitmaring, Director of the Malteser St. Franziskus Hospital in Flensburg, who spoke earlier this week about a number of non-elderly patients with no underlying health conditions having been seriously ill after contracting the British variant, which is known to be considerably more infectious than the original form of the virus.
These concerns are equally echoed by politicians. On Thursday morning, SPD Minister and Professor of Health Economics and Clinical Epidemiology, Karl Lauterbach, called for a strict lockdown to be implemented in the town, pointing to the danger of the UK variant exemplified by the situation in Flensburg. Studies have also suggested that the rising cases are not simply concentrated around a single source within the area, but rather multiple parts of the town have been reporting outbreaks of the variant.
This has come as a shock to the community which - until recently - had been generally lower than the national average in terms of infection rates. Some argue that the geographical location of Schleswig-Holstein, with the Ostsee to the East, and the Nordsee to the West, had served the region well when it came to controlling rates of infection, and the Danish border had also been subject to multiple restrictions and closures over the past year.
For those now wishing to travel over the border into Denmark, a negative test and 10-day isolation period is mandatory. Meanwhile, the Danish authorities are advising against all but essential travel abroad. As with Germany, they have been observing a decline in cases, but the proportion of infections linked to variant B.1.1.7. remains a serious concern in both nations.
Indeed, for Germany, this week also saw the current travel ban for those arriving from Virusvariantengebiete (high risk areas linked to coronavirus variants), such as the UK and Portugal, extended until March 3rd. Meanwhile, the national lockdown remains in force until at least March 7th.
Whilst the growing case rate of Flensburg is admittedly anomalous with respect to the national picture, it nonetheless represents the very real danger of the B.1.1.7. spread, fear of which is currently driving Germany’s lockdown exit strategy. Although infections may be down, the growing spread of variants means that this is by no means a time for complacency.