BERLIN (AP) – Thousands of people protested at a demonstration in Berlin on Saturday marking what organizers have called “the end of the pandemic” – a statement that comes as authorities express growing concerns over an increase in new infections.
With a few masks in sight, a dense crowd marched through Berlin city center from the Brandenburg Gate.
Protesters from across the country held up homemade signs with slogans such as “Corona, false alarm”, “We are forced to wear a muzzle”, “Natural defense instead of vaccination” and “We are the second wave ”.
They chanted: “We are here and we are loud, because we are deprived of our freedom!”
Police used megaphone to berate participants for adhering to social distancing rules and wearing masks, apparently without much success. They tweeted that they had filed a criminal complaint against the organizer of the rally for not respecting hygiene rules, then said shortly after that the organizer had ended the march.
Police estimated that around 17,000 people have moved. The demonstrators were kept away from the counter-demonstrators, some of whom chanted “Nazis out!”
Protesters continued to a subsequent rally on a boulevard crossing the city’s Tiergarten park, which police said drew 20,000 people. Police declared the event over as organizers failed to convince protesters to wear masks or keep their distance.
Protests against anti-virus restrictions in Germany drew a variety of participants, including conspiracy theorists and right-wing populists.
Unlike the United States, Brazil and Britain, the German government has been praised around the world for its handling of the pandemic. The death toll in the country – just over 9,150 people out of more than 210,670 confirmed cases of the virus on Saturday – is five times lower than in Britain, which has a smaller population.
The German government has eased lockdown measures since the end of April, but social distancing rules remain, as does the requirement to wear masks on public transport and in stores.
Officials have warned of complacency as the number of new COVID-19 cases has recently increased. Amid concerns about residents bringing home infections on summer trips overseas, authorities have introduced free testing for people entering the country.
Germany’s National Center for Disease Control on Friday recorded 955 new cases, a high figure by recent standards.
“Thousands of #covidiots are celebrating themselves in Berlin as ‘the second wave’, without distancing, without mask,” tweeted Saskia Esken, co-leader of the Social Democrats, the junior party of the German government coalition.
“They are not only endangering our health, they are endangering our success against the pandemic and for the revival of the economy, education and society. Irresponsible! “
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