Germany announces plans to ease coronavirus restrictions, reopen restaurants and shops

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced in a video conference Wednesday that Germany will start to take steps to ease the country's current coronavirus lockdown measures.

Restaurants, shops and the country’s soccer league, the Bundesliga, have been permitted to reopen across the country in all 16 states. Merkel has also put in place measures to impose “an emergency break” if COVID-19 cases increase again.

Germany, which has been in lockdown since mid-March, has reported nearly 168,000 cases of coronavirus with close to 7,000 deaths. The number of new cases has decreased over recent weeks and Merkel said Wednesday she believes they have "achieved the goal" of slowing the spread, the AFP reported.

"I believe we can say today that we have the very first phase of the pandemic behind us," she added.

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Social distancing rules will stay in place until June 5, but people are allowed to meet and be in public with members of “one other household.”

Nursing homes are also now allowed to receive one reoccurring visitor per elderly person. But “emergency mechanisms” are in place for hospitals and nursing homes that see an uptick in infections.

Each state will be responsible for rolling out the new practices and all large events remain canceled through August.

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Merkel said these new steps are possible because the country has seen success in decreasing the virus infection rates and have kept them lowered since mid-April.

“We have a very, very good development of the figures for new infections and that makes it possible for us to take further steps," she said.

The chancellor also said these new allowances will be closely monitored and that it is up to the state authorities to reimpose restrictions for any district that sees 50 or more people infected in every 100,000 over a seven-day period.

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Merkel urged people to act responsibly during this time, especially with the opening of the soccer season. She emphasized that coronavirus remains a threat.

"The very first phase of the pandemic is over, but we are still at the overall beginning of the pandemic, and we still have a long fight against the virus ahead of us,” the chancellor added.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.