Despite the rising number of confirmed cases of infection, about 17,000 people turned up in Berlin on Saturday rallying against social distancing rules meant to curb the coronavirus pandemic, which was later dispersed by the police.
Protesters marched from the landmark Brandenburg Gate through central Berlin before holding a rally on a wide boulevard. Police then broke up the rally, saying that the organizers were unable to ensure that safety and health regulations were being observed.
The police said on Twitter that over 17,000 attended the protest. A criminal complaint against the organizers for failing to comply with the regulation was later filed. Many protesters wore no masks and disregarded social distancing rules.
Some yelled at people who wore masks, telling them to remove them. There were placards reading “Stop corona insanity”, while some protestors wore T-shirts with “Corona=fake news” printed on the front. “Why are you wearing a mask?… Mask wearers die earlier!” A protester shouted at a Xinhua reporter.
There were demonstrators waving flags of various German states, and some of the right-wing groups even carried Germany’s black, white and red imperial flag.
“We are the second wave!” some protesters shouted, referring to the second wave of the coronavirus outbreak as scientists and the government have warned against.
The protest, declared as “Day of Freedom”, was supported by some neo-Nazi groups and conspiracy theorists, along with Germans who say they are fed up with the government’s restrictions to curb the pandemic.
Germany enforced a strict lockdown in mid-March and started to ease it from the end of April. However, large public gatherings are still banned, and mask-wearing is compulsory in all shops and on public transport.In Stuttgart, the same group has repeatedly demonstrated against the restrictions imposed by the German government to contain the coronavirus.
German Health Minister Jens Spahn criticized on Twitter people attending the protest for failing to follow health regulations, while underlining their right to protest.
“Yes, demonstrations should be allowed even amid the pandemic. But not like this,” Spahn tweeted, adding that social distancing, health and safety rules and wearing face masks serve to protect everyone.
Saskia Esken, co-leader of the ruling Social Democratic Party, wrote on Twitter that “Thousands of #Covidiots are creating a second wave in Berlin, without distancing or masks.”
A total of 955 new infections have been confirmed in the past 24 hours in Germany, the highest in months, according to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the German government agency and research institute responsible for disease control and prevention.