Thousands protested Germany's coronavirus restrictions Saturday in a Berlin demonstration that insisted "the end of the pandemic" has arrived - a declaration that comes just as authorities are voicing increasing concerns about an uptick in new infections.
Organisers initially hoped half a million protesters would join the demonstration but police estimated about 17,000 had gathered.
Demonstrators hold flags during a protest against the government's restrictions amid the CCP virus outbreak, in Berlin on August 1, 2020.
Protests against anti-virus restrictions in Germany have long drawn a variety of attendees, including conspiracy theorists and right-wing populists.
Germany has had more than 210,000 cases of coronavirus and more than 9,000 related deaths since the pandemic began.
The relatively low death rate - almost one-fourth of the United Kingdom, which has a smaller population - has been seen as a result of Germany's early imposition of strict measures. Some of the mask-clad counter-protesters held signs accusing their political opponents of harboring fascist and anti-Semitic views. "Distance, hygiene rules and masks serve to protect us all, so we treat each other with respect".
Few protesters wore a mask or respected the 1.5-metre social distancing requirement, an AFP journalist reported, despite police calling on them via megaphone to do so. After initial success in curbing infections, they are starting to rise again.
"When they see so many people, so many strangers, congregating in the centre of Berlin, and flouting the rules, they worry very much that there will be a second wave", he said.
Health Minister Jens Spahn agreed: "Yes, demonstrations should also be possible in times of coronavirus, but not like this. But not like this".
"Thousands of #covidiots are celebrating themselves in Berlin as 'the second wave, ' without distancing, without masks", tweeted Saskia Esken, a co-leader of the Social Democrats, the junior party in Germany's governing coalition.
"They not only endanger our health, they endanger our successes against the pandemic and for the revitalization of the economy, education and society. Irresponsible!", she wrote on Twitter.
Jan Redmann, regional head of Merkel's Christian Democrats in the eastern state of Brandenburg, also took aim at the marchers. "We can no longer allow ourselves these risky absurdities", Redmann complained. "Whereas the other protesters are not, they have been shouting 'the pandemic never happened.' And there was an interesting standoff between protesters and counterprotesters", she said in a live report.
The surge has been attributed to the public becoming negligent on hygiene and social distancing rules, according to the Robert Koch Institute, the German government's disease control and prevention agency. "That's why many Germans are wondering what exactly are these protesters protesting against when the rules have been relaxed for so long".