Christoph Soeder/dpa via AP
Thousands of people protested in Berlin against coronavirus restrictions despite an uptick in cases.
Demonstrators, many not wearing masks, marched from the Brandenburg Gate on Saturday ahead of a rally on a wide boulevard that runs through the city’s Tiergarten park.
The protest was titled ‘The end of the pandemic: freedom day’.
Protesters held up placards promoting conspiracy theories such as “Corona, false alarm”, and there were chants of “we’re here and we’re loud, because we are being robbed of our freedom.”
Placards also read “we are being forced to wear a muzzle” and “natural defence instead of vaccination.”
Police estimated about 17,000 people turned out. The demonstrators were kept apart from counter protesters, some of whom chanted “Nazis out!”
Protesters continued to a subsequent rally on a boulevard running through the city’s Tiergarten park, which police estimated drew 20,000 people. Police declared that event over as organisers again failed to get demonstrators to wear masks or keep their distance.
Protests against anti-virus restrictions in Germany have drawn a variety of attendees, including conspiracy theorists and right-wing populists.
Germany has so far fared better than some of its European neighbours during the outbreak, with 210,000 confirmed cases and around 9,100 deaths attributed to COVID-19, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally.
The country has been easing lockdown measures since late April but social-distancing rules remain in place, as does a requirement to wear masks on public transport and in shops.
Infection figures have crept up over the past few weeks and officials have warned against complacency.
Earlier this week Lothar Wieler, the president of the German Robert Koch Institute for Health Surveillance, expressed alarm at rising cases.
“The latest developments of COVID-19 cases are a source of great concern for me and for all of us at the RKI,” he said.
Several politicians condemned the demonstration as Germany.
Saskia Esken of the Social Democrats, a junior coalition partner in Angela Merkel’s government, blasted the demonstrators as “Covidiots”.
In a tweet Esken said: “No distancing, no mask. They are not only putting at risk our health but also our success against the pandemic as well as economic recovery, education and society. Irresponsible!”
But Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, who hails from Merkel’s traditional right ally the Christian Social Union, was more understanding.
“Of course there are always different opinions regarding infringements of basic rights and restrictions of freedom — first, it’s normal and, in my view, it’s not the majority,” Seehofer told Bavarian daily Passauer Neue Presse.