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IN NUMBERS: Where are Covid cases rising in Germany – and what does it mean?

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As spring turned into summer and pubs, restaurants and tourist attractions reopened for business, many people in Germany believed that that sunny weather would bring with it a momentary respite from the ongoing pandemic. 

For a few months, the vaccination rollout had been proceeding apace while infection rates were rapidly dropping. But since the country reached its latest lowest 7-day incidence of 4.9 cases per 100,000 residents on July 6th, the trend appears to have taken a U-turn.

READ ALSO: Is Germany facing a Covid fourth wave fuelled by Delta?

Rise in infections accelerating

As of Wednesday, 11.4 infections per 100,000 people had been recorded in the past week. Though infections have only just slid into double digits nationally, experts are looking with concern at the amount of time it has taken for weekly infections to double.

“The time [the 7-day incidence] takes to double has sunk from 15 to 14 days,” wrote Welt reporter Olaf Gersemann. “If this current trend holds, it will be just under two weeks until the number of active coronavirus infections in Germany doubles [again].” 

This would mean that, by the middle of September, the Covid-19 incidence rate could once again soar into the hundreds.

Health Minister Jens Spahn even warned that should the development continue, the incidence could reach 400 infections per 100,000 people in September – and even 800 cases per 100,000 people in October.

For comparison, on September 17th 2020, the 7-day incidence was 11.5 – which is roughly the same as it was on Wednesday. 

In addition, the number of new infections registered within a day rose by 42 percent to more than 2,200, while the average number of daily infections rose by 62 percent to 1,419.

Where are infections going up?

In the step-by-step reopening of public life, states – who are responsible for setting their own Covid rules – have generally opted for a tiered system linked to 7-day incidence.

When the incidence rises above 35 and stays there for more than three days, state governments are required to tighten restrictions, for instance by limiting the number of people allowed at sports events or private gatherings, or re-introducing testing requirements for indoor gastronomy. 

Though the nationwide incidence is currently 11.4, infections aren’t distributed evenly across the country: some districts are registering barely any infections, while other parts of the country have already surpassed the 35 or even the 50 mark.

Here are the districts in Germany where the incidence were highest on July 21st – and where restrictions could be reintroduced just a few weeks after they were scrapped. 

  • Birkenfeld (Rhineland-Palatinate): 63
  • Solingen (North Rhine-Westphalia): 45
  • Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg (Berlin): 40.4 
  • Berlin Mitte (Berlin): 35.2
  • Kaiserslautern (Rhineland-Palatinate): 35
  • Frankfurt am Main (Hesse): 33.8
  • Amberg (Bavaria): 33.1
  • Dusseldorf (North-Rhine Westphalia): 33
  • Darmstadt (Hesse): 32.5
  • Bamberg (Bavaria): 31 
  • Grafschaft Bentheim (Lower Saxony): 29.9

On a state level, the state with the highest incidence is Berlin, which registered 21.8 new infections per 100,000 people over seven days. The two states with the lowest incidences were Mecklenburg Western-Pomerania and Saxony, with incidences of 2.9 and 3 respectively.


Source: Robert Koch Institute

What rules could change in these areas?

In Rhineland-Palatinate, the district of Birkenfeld – which currently has the highest 7-day incidence of anywhere in Germany, tighter restrictions have already come into force. Outdoor events are now only allowed with up to 500 spectators, while up to 350 are permitted indoors. If the situation remains the same, school pupils will also have to wear masks in classrooms and around the school when they return after the summer break. 

READ ALSO: ‘Nobody can rule out enormous fourth wave’: German schools fear new Covid restrictions

In North Rhine-Westphalia, a 7-day incidence of more than 35 puts a district back at stage two of the state’s four-step reopening scheme. At this stage, a number of contact restrictions will once again come into force for sports events and private parties. In addition, tests are needed to dine and drink indoors, while shops and supermarkets must only allow in one person per 10 square metres of space in the establishment. 

According to a report in Bild, tighter restrictions could come into force as early as Friday in Solingen. 

READ ALSO: ‘Stage zero’: North Rhine-Westphalia to scrap all contact restrictions on Friday

Unlike in North Rhine-Westphalia, Berlin doesn’t have a set of measures that are formally linked to the incidence – though it does keep a close eye on infection rates in order to respond accordingly. On Saturday July 10th, the city-state lifted a number of contact restrictions, while also easing mask-wearing rules and quadrupling the capacity of clubs from 250 to 1,000. If infections continue to rise as rapidly as they have over the past few weeks, there could be another crackdown on the city’s famous nightlife scene. 

In Bavaria, things are a little bit simpler, as the state uses an ‘over-50’ or ‘under-50’ barometer to decide on its rules. The district with the highest state, Amberg, currently has a 7-day incidence of 33, so it’s still got some way to go. If infections do pass the 50 mark, however, residents of the state can expect contact restrictions to be reintroduced (up to 10 people from three households), in addition to alternating lessons in schools and widespread testing. 


Amberg, in Bavaria, could see its 7-day incidence exceed 50 in the coming weeks. If that happens, it will face further restrictions. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Armin Weigel

In Hesse, the state’s Covid-19 measures follow a colour-coded system very closely linked to the incidence. An incidence of over 35 is colour-coded orange, and could lead to “an expansion and reinforcement of previous measures.

“In particular, measures to restrict contact and the further closure of facilities and operations connected with the outbreak should be considered,” the state says in its public health guidance.

In the state of Lower Saxony, the regional health ministry also follows a step-by-step plan, with incidences of 35 or more equating to ‘Stage 2’. At this stage, only 10 people from up to three households are allowed to meet socially, and residents of the higher incidence district must wear masks in busy outdoor spaces.

Will it really depend on the number of infections?

While the 7-day incidence figure continues to be the primary means of tracking the spread of Covid and setting restrictions, health experts have expressed the view that tracking infections alone may no longer be enough to decide whether lockdown measures and social contract restrictions are appropriate. 

That means that, if hospital admissions and deaths remain low, the country may avoid the type of harsh lockdown it experienced in winter, despite a potential spike in infections. 

Furthermore, authorities say they don’t want to enforce harsh restrictions on fully vaccinated people. But it would be tricky – and controversial – to order lockdowns only for unvaccinated people. 



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Property group clashes with council over Dundrum residential development

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The owners of Dundrum Town Centre have clashed with Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown council over demands for more large apartments as they advance fast-track plans for a major residential development in the south Dublin village.

Property group Hammerson and insurer Allianz, which operate the new shopping complex in the area, have been in talks with An Bord Pleanála to build up to 889 apartments on the site of the old Dundrum shopping centre.

Their company, Dundrum Retail Ltd Partnership, has told the council it should scrap new requirements for “a minimum of three-plus bedroom units” in large apartment blocks that are included among proposed amendments to its draft county development plan.

In a submission last week to the council, the company said the new guidelines were in conflict with official rules that said there should be no minimum requirement for apartments with three or more bedrooms.

According to the company, the justification for the guidelines was based on fast-track strategic housing development permissions in the council area and “evidence” from certain boroughs in London.

“[Dundrum Retail Ltd Partnership] submit that the logic underpinning the policy is flawed and is not a basis for imposing prescriptive unit mix ratios on a countywide basis,” it said.

“The draft development plan needs to be amended to remove the very prescriptive requirement for apartments with three or more bedrooms and to allow applicants to make the case for a particular unit mix based on the particular attributes of local areas where a different mix might be appropriate.”

The company also told the council that proposed amendments to the development plan presented “contradictory or ambiguous objectives” in relation to proposals for a community, cultural and civic centre in the area.

Such objections were included among 106 submissions on the draft plan in a public consultation which closed last week. Numerous other developers and the Irish Home Builders Association lobby group also opposed the measures, some saying they would delay or prevent the delivery of new homes.

Asked about the submissions, the council said the response to any issues raised would be set out in a report by its chief executive to elected members which would be published. “It will be a decision of the elected members to adopt the plan and it is anticipated that this will take place in early March 2022. The plan will then come into effect six weeks later,” the council said.

Cost increase

In its submission, the Irish Home Builders Association said its members were concerned that the introduction of “further onerous standards” would increase the cost of delivering new homes and their price.

“This at a time when construction costs are already under huge inflationary pressure and affordability is a major issues for most home buyers,” said James Benson, director of the association.

“A key concern of the home-building sector in respect of the new plan is a lack of consistency with national planning guidelines/standards, which may be considered to be contrary to recent Government policy which sought to bring a greater extent of standardisation to national planning standards.”

The submission added: “The key concerns relate to the locational restriction and unit mix requirements for [build-to-rent] schemes, other standards for apartment developments which are more onerous/restrictive than the Government’s… guidelines, and the requirement for early delivery of childcare facilities in residential developments, all of which have the potential to impact adversely on the viability and affordability of housing in the county.”

Another builder, Park Developments, said in a submission the draft sought “more onerous policies, objectives and standards” that would have a direct effect on housing supply. “We are already seeing the impact of the chronic shortage in the supply of housing on the affordability of rental accommodation and homeownership.”

Castlethorn Construction said the blanket imposition of three-bedroom requirements “can only serve to militate against development of apartments” in the council area. It said the cost of delivering three-bed apartments was “very significant”, adding that demand was “not evident by reference to market sentiment, estate agents’ advice” and national policy imperatives.

Developer Hines, which has major interests in the Cherrywood strategic development zone, said in its submission that the logic underpinning requirements for more three-bedroom units was flawed.

“While making the case that recent development has been weighted towards one- and two-bed units, it fails to recognise that three-bed semi-detached and detached houses remain the predominant typology within [Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown] and that the [strategic housing development] permissions provide a much-needed mix of housing types within the county to redress this balance within the county.”


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Laicisation of Catholic priest in Tipperary causes disappointment and anger in parish

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Standing in the family’s hardware store on Main Street in Carrick-on-Suir, Fiona Hearn remembers how Fr Richard Geoghegan gave her son First Holy Communion 15 years ago.

Today, Geoghegan is no longer a priest, following the Vatican’s decision to issue a laicisation order, with the history of the story up to that point a subject of disagreement.

The former parish priest at Ballyneale and past curate at St Nicholas Parish in Carrick-On-Suir announced on Twitter last week that he had been officially “dismissed by Rome” on January 7th.

“My Bishop was happy to dispense me. I’m a good man. And he talks about the shortage of vocations,” said Geoghegan, who entered the seminary in 1987 aged just 19, and he was ordained six years later.

The Bishop of Waterford and Lismore, Phonsie Cullinan, whose diocese extends over both the borders of Tipperary and Cork, has rejected Geoghegan’s charges.

Fr Richard Geoghegan
Fr Richard Geoghegan

Geoghegan had petitioned Pope Francis for laicisation last March and it was granted on December 15th, said the bishop: “I wish to acknowledge and thank Richard for his pastoral ministry over the years and wish him well for the future.”

Geoghegan came under fire from conservative Catholics following an appearance on hotelier Francis Brennan’s RTÉ show Grand Tour of Vietnam in 2017, wherein he performed in drag as singer Shirley Bassey, wearing a blonde wig and lipstick.

The TV appearance might not have done him any favours, Hearn accepts. “He is only human at the end of the day. He is well loved here in town. We’d love to have him back. I’d have nothing but deep respect for him,” she says.

“He is a real people’s person. Some older priests could be aloof. You couldn’t meet a nicer, more down to earth man. I think he has been pretty hard done by the Pope and the bishop.”

Hearn is not alone in her feelings, with many members of the tight-knit Catholic churchgoing community in Carrick-On-Suir and surrounding districts still shocked and disappointed by the turn of events.

Despite the bishop’s declaration that Geoghegan had himself applied to be laicised, the Association of Catholic Priests’ Tim Hazelwood describes his treatment as “inappropriate, unreasonable and unacceptable”.

In 2020, Hazelwood accompanied Geoghegan to a meeting with Bishop Cullinan, and his secretary.

“It was obvious from the meeting that he wanted Richard to apply for laicisation,” Hazelwood says. “That’s when Richard said he would have liked to be a curate…Richard found it difficult being on his own in a parish. He needed support,” Hazelwood adds.

“Obviously, the bishop had made up his mind,” says Hazelwood, “I was shocked, really because the majority of bishops would be supportive, but what I was hearing was really a put down.”

Geoghegan declined to comment when contacted.

Former parishioner, John Nolan said, “The Church is crying out for priests and is leaving a good man go. He was friends with everyone, an absolute gentleman. Anyone having a wedding here would look for him. I think it is all down to Bishop Phonsie. ”

Describing him as “a fantastic priest”, Carrick-on-Suir butcher Morris Whelan says was a great man. “He knew everyone by name. You’d meet him once and he knew your name forever. He was involved in the parish in every part of it.”

Local Sinn Féin councillor David Dunne remembers Geoghegan’s kindnesses during his mother’s illness.

“Everyone recognised him for the programme he did with Francis Brennan…It was fairly flamboyant and wasn’t in keeping with the Church, but it was typical of Fr Richard,” said Cllr Dunne, “He was always friendly, outgoing and is well-regarded. It is a major loss.”

Describing the former priest’s ability to engage, Luke Foran says: “One of my favourite memories of him is my brother’s Communion where he had all the kids gathered around and Richard’s phone rang, and who was on the phone only ‘Jesus’.

“You should have seen the kids’ faces drop. It was brilliant and he enthralled and captivated the whole place. He was ahead of his time. Richard humanised the priesthood and was a breath of fresh air,” he said.

Besides the memories, there is anger, too. Ashling Ní Fháthaigh said: “When he was saying mass the church was a lot fuller with a younger congregation. (He) was liked by so many and was punished for that.”

Believing that the church’s hierarchy has questions to answers, Margaret Croke says: “A church without compassion and understanding who can so readily dismiss a person who was so dedicated for so many years to its flock and to God really needs to change.”

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IRA victims will need to be persuaded to vote for a united Ireland, says Eastwood

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Many people who were victims of IRA violence during the Troubles will have to be persuaded to vote for a united Ireland, the SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has said.

A lot of unionist people had “serious hurt and pain because of what the IRA did”, he maintained, as the Bloody Sunday families had been hurt and traumatised by the actions of the British army 50 years ago.

Mr Eastwood told a meeting of Ireland’s Future in Derry that unionists will need a lot of persuading of the merits of a united Ireland.

“We have to be realistic about this. We have to convince a lot of people who don’t currently want to vote for a united Ireland to vote for it,” he said.

“I don’t believe we can do this without dealing with the proper legacy of the past. It has to be about the future, but it does not go away. We have learned that after 20 years of the Good Friday Agreement, it affects the current politics and will infect this debate in ways that I don’t think we are prepared for.

“I believe in truth and justice. I want it from the British Government and I want it from the IRA as well.”

Opportunity

Sinn Féin MLA Declan Kearney said his party was committed to addressing the legacy of the past.

“In the context of a new constitutional arrangement on this island, we need to put reconciliation and healing at the core of our political and civic institutions,” he said.

“Irish unity is the defining issue of our generation. We need to find common ground across the greatest cross-section of political and civic society. This is going to be a societal endeavour. Politicians cannot and should not deliver constitutional change.”

Irish Examiner journalist Aoife Grace Moore, whose uncle Patrick Doherty, was murdered on Bloody Sunday, said her life was shaped by the Troubles though she is part of the ceasefire generation.

“It is up to my generation – we have the opportunity to make a real difference in the North,” she said.

“I am not really interested in a conversation about flags and anthems. That is completely missing the point. I would like to talk about giving young people better outcomes and lifting them out of poverty.

“The brain drain of people from the young people leaving the North is devastating and it was not supposed to be this way.”

Queens University Belfast Prof Colin Harvey told the meeting that Ireland’s Future will be publishing a major document presently about the health services in both jurisdiction.

He has been criticised by some Brexit-supporting unionists for advocating for a united Ireland, but he said academics should be involved in the major issues facing society.

“I have a very strong belief that academics should not just sit in libraries and they should not be fearful for doing so,” he said.

“We want to get this right. Nobody wants a situation where where people are painting lies on the sides of buses. People want an evidenced-based planned approach to constitutional change.”

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