BERLIN (AP) — Germans flocked to the salons Monday as hairdressers across the country reopened after a 2½-month closure, another cautious step toward normality as Germany balances a desire to loosen restrictions with concerns about more contagious virus variants.
The move came after many German elementary students returned to school a week ago, following a decision by Chancellor Angela Merkel and Germany’s 16 state governors. They will confer again on Wednesday to decide how to proceed with the rest of Germany’s coronavirus restrictions, which at present run until Sunday.
Some German states also allowed businesses such as florists and hardware stores to open on Monday. Most stores have been closed nationwide since Dec. 16. Restaurants, bars, sports and leisure facilities have been closed since Nov. 2 and hotels are allowed only to accommodate business travelers.
At his Liebe zum Detail ("Love of Detail") salon in Cologne, manager Marc Nicolas Bruehl said he is fully booked for the next four weeks.
“There is a certain ambivalence about it, because on the one hand we are of course happy to be able to open up again and to earn money ourselves again," he said. "On the other hand, the increasing numbers and the emerging (virus) mutations are of course also something that concerns us.”
Customer Udo Matzka, 64, said he was “totally happy that I can be here today.”
“I wouldn't have thought how systemically relevant a hairdresser can be," he said.
There are increasing calls for restrictions to be further relaxed, but also a desire to remain cautious. A steady decline in daily new infections has stalled, and even been reversed in some areas, as a more contagious variant first discovered in Britain spreads.
“This week will set the course for the coming months,” said Bavarian governor Markus Soeder, an advocate of a cautious approach. He called the virus situation “unstable” and said authorities must not “fly blind into a third wave.”
“It's really important that we make smart decisions this week,” he said. “Smart decisions means that the mood must be taken on board — we must find the right balance between caution and opening, and we absolutely must not lose our nerves ... and simply fulfill all wishes.”
Germany’s disease control center reported 4,732 new coronavirus cases over the past 24 hours and another 60 deaths, bringing Germany's overall pandemic death toll to 70,105. The number of new cases over seven days stood at nearly 66 per 100,000 residents — far below its peak of nearly 200 just before Christmas but also well above the level of 35 at which, under existing plans, the government wanted to loosen rules further.
Germany had given 4.9% of its population a first vaccine shot as of Sunday, while 2.5% had received a second jab — relatively slow progress that has drawn sharp criticism.
Bavaria and two neighboring states, meanwhile, plan to give 15,000 vaccine doses to the neighboring Czech Republic, which currently has the highest infection rate in the 27-nation European Union.
Soeder said the “symbolic measure” ultimately helps Germany, because Czech authorities want to use it in high-risk areas near the border and vaccinate cross-border commuters.
Saxony's governor, Michael Kretschmer, suggested that virus hot spots along the border should receive a greater share of available tests and vaccines for everyone over 18 to help contain the spread there.
Most of the German counties with high infection rates are near the Czech border.
Daniel Niemann in Cologne, and Frank Jordans in Berlin, contributed to this report.
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