Germany resumes church services – but no singing allowed as coronavirus restrictions loosen

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Germany allowed church services to resume in a limited capacity on Sunday following a six-week hiatus during a countrywide coronavirus lockdown – but worshippers won’t be able to sing just yet.

A set of strict rules prohibits worshippers from singing in the church over fears the COVID-19 virus could spread more easily that way, German broadcaster Deutsche Welles reported. The congregation must wear masks and must follow social distancing rules, which have prohibited the traditional handshaking that is part of Catholic ceremonies.

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Cologne Cathedral, the largest church in Germany and the largest Gothic church in northern Europe, held its first ceremony Sunday for those who work at the church.

Believers arrive with online tickets for the first church service at Germany's famed Cologne Cathedral after coronavirus restrictions loosened in Cologne, Germany on Sunday. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

Believers arrive with online tickets for the first church service at Germany's famed Cologne Cathedral after coronavirus restrictions loosened in Cologne, Germany on Sunday. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

The ceremony was limited to just 122 people, a restriction that will remain when public services begin Wednesday. Those who wish to attend will have to register via a website, according to German media site Koeln. The cathedral typically receives 20,000 visitors each day.

Germany last week eased some hygienic and social distancing restrictions meant to curb the spread of COVID-19, agreeing to reopen playgrounds, churches and cultural institutions such as museums and zoos. Authorities postponed a decision on when to relax rules for restaurants, hotels and kindergartens.

German Cardinal and Cologne Archbishop Rainer Woelki, right, celebrated the first church service at Germany's Cologne Cathedral on Sunday. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

German Cardinal and Cologne Archbishop Rainer Woelki, right, celebrated the first church service at Germany's Cologne Cathedral on Sunday. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

“So far, we have managed to succeed in doing so,” Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters Thursday after a meeting with the governors of Germany's 16 states. “We have all together achieved a lot in recent weeks.”

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Germany, a country of 83 million people, recorded 164,967 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 6,812 deaths as of Sunday. That is about a quarter the number of virus-related deaths reported in Britain and France, even though the three countries have similar numbers of confirmed cases.

Last week, Germany recorded between 1,000 and 1,500 new cases a day, down from 2,000 the previous week.

While the country's success in flattening the curve of infections has sparked calls for its lockdown to end, Merkel advised a slow approach.

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“Caution is required, as well as sticking to hygiene measures,” she said, adding that a decision on reopening hotels and restaurants and relaxing the rules for schools, child care centers, and sports facilities, was expected on May 6.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.