Playgrounds in Germany will on Monday reverberate with the joyful sounds of children having fun, as scholars return to museums and worshippers open the doors of churches.
Some small shops have already reopened, and most regional administrations will soon announce schedules for schools and small-scale sports events.
But Chancellor Angela Merkel, currently riding high in the polls as she enters the final months of her tenure as the country’s leader, warned on Wednesday that there was a risk of triggering a resurgence of the coronavirus if people dropped their guard and forgot about social distancing.
“We must work to make sure we bring the number of new infections down further,” Merkel said. “If the infection curve becomes steep again, we need to have a warning system to notice it early and be able to act.”
Germany has withstood the pandemic much better than the United States, the United Kingdom and Italy, partly thanks to widespread virus testing, an excellent healthcare system and strict lockdown measures introduced in mid-March.
Merkel’s conservatives and their Social Democrat coalition partners have also passed a 750-billion-euro ($822bn) rescue package to mitigate the economic impact of the crisis.
Her clear and calm communication strategy, embrace of scientific facts and calls for unity in fighting the virus have sent support for her conservatives surging to a three-year high of almost 40 percent.
Her chief of staff Helge Braun said social-distancing measures – the requirement to wear face masks while shopping and on public transport and stay at least 1.5 metres away from other people – would remain until at least May 10.
He added that any further easing would depend on the rate of infection remaining low.
Germany’s 16 federal states are also working on a plan to reopen bars and restaurants and allow some sport to take place.
But the country’s top-flight football competition, the Bundesliga, will not know until next week when it can begin to plan for athletes’ training and league matches.
Clubs had been hoping for the government to give the green light and end a two-month suspension, but Merkel said any decision on if and when sports activities could resume would be taken on May 6.
“The [German Football League] and the clubs will prepare for a continuation of the season in May, along the lines of the health and organisation concept [a plan submitted to Berlin last week],” the German Football League said in a statement.
The government has suspended all major events with spectators until August 31, meaning that any season restart will be without fans in the stadiums.
The prospect of a return to some kind of normality has been made possible by a fall in the number of coronavirus infections to just under 1,500 a day, compared with more than 6,000 at its peak in early April.
While Germany has the sixth-highest number of confirmed infections, at over 162,000, on a par with France and the UK, it has recorded around a quarter of their deaths, at just over 6,500.
Merkel’s administration is eager to avoid being forced to further stifle an economy expected to shrink by more than six percent this year.
The chancellor said measures to help the embattled car industry, Germany’s biggest exporter and employer of more than 800,000 people before the crisis, would be discussed as part of a fiscal package to restart the economy.