German police break up banned coronavirus demonstration

Coronavirus skeptics protest against government restrictions, although the rally has been disallowed by a regional court, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Bremen, Germany, December 5, 2020. REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer

BERLIN (Reuters) - German police intervened on Saturday to break up a demonstration by opponents of coronavirus lockdown measures in the northern city of Bremen after the protest was banned by the country's highest court.

Germany's constitutional court upheld earlier rulings by lower courts that had already denied permission for 20,000 demonstrators to convene in the city centre of Bremen.

However, hundreds of people still gathered, some of them opponents of the government's coronavirus measures and others part of a counter-demonstration.

Bremen police said on Twitter they were trying to keep the groups apart and break up the banned gathering, as well as urging people to wear face masks.

Last month, police unleashed water cannon and pepper spray in an effort to scatter thousands of protesters in Berlin angry about coronavirus restrictions.

Although most Germans accept the latest "lockdown light" to curb a second wave of the coronavirus, critics say the measures endanger citizens' civil rights.

The head of Germany's public health agency said on Thursday that the country's success in dealing with the first wave of the pandemic in March and April had led many people to doubt the virus's severity or even its existence.

While daily infection numbers are no longer rising as sharply as previously, case numbers have stagnated at a high level, and Germany reported its highest single-day death toll since the start of the pandemic on Wednesday.

On Saturday, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 23,318 to 1,153,556, according to data from the Robert Koch Institute for Infectious Diseases (RKI), while the reported death toll rose by 483 to 18,517.

Chancellor Angel Merkel and state leaders agreed on Wednesday to extend restrictive measures, which include keeping restaurants and hotels shut and limiting private gatherings to five people from two households, until Jan. 10.

Gerd Landsberg, head of the association representing German towns and districts, told the Handelsblatt daily that plans to ease the rules over the Christmas and New Year holiday might have to be reconsidered if the virus keeps spreading fast.

Health Minister Jens Spahn predicted that Germany would be able to get 11 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine by the end of March, he told the T-online news portal, adding that he expected mass vaccinations by next summer.

(Reporting by Ursula Knapp; Writing by Emma Thomasson; Editing by Gareth Jones and David Clarke)

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