Long live jog and stroll, court tells over-strict German region

SAARBRUECKEN, Germany (Reuters) - The regional state of Saarland had one of the strictest lockdowns in Germany to tackle one of its highest infection rates - but was told by a court on Wednesday to loosen up a little and let people get fresh air and visit relatives.

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While most regions have permitted a measure of outdoor activity as long as distance from others was maintained, the small state on the French border allowed only essential outings - to work, to see a doctor or go to the shops.

The Saarland government had planned to start easing restrictions next Monday but the region’s Constitutional Court accepted a petition by a resident who said his personal freedoms were being infringed.

“The infection and death rates in federal states with and without curfews show no good reason for the continuation of the rules in Saarland,” the court said.

Family visits and leisure walks should be allowed at once if social distancing rules were observed, it said.

Residents in the regional capital Saarbruecken appeared divided.

“I happen to have this week off, so now that restrictions have been eased a little, I can go out for a change and enjoy the nice weather or go shopping,” said Ubud Kaynak, taking a stroll on a shopping street.

“The mask requirement is not so nice, but I guess it’s acceptable for a little more freedom.”

But local resident Linda Wolter was not convinced.

“I think it’s a bit too soon,” she said. “This is my first time outside in six weeks and I’m not comfortable. I’m being really careful, I’m keeping a 2-metre distance, and it’s no fun.”

Germany has weathered the pandemic much better than the United States, Italy and Spain, recording almost 158,000 cases including 6,115 deaths as of Wednesday.

All 16 federal states started lifting restrictions last week with most businesses and schools gradually reopening. Wearing a mask while shopping has been made mandatory.

But Chancellor Angela Merkel has said easing the restrictions too soon could lead to a resurgence of cases and force a reintroduction of measures that have damaged the economy.

Reporting by Timm Reichert; Writing by Joseph Nasr; Editing by Kevin Liffey