Germany’s top court upholds night curfews in COVID-19 fight

By Michael Nienaber

BERLIN (Reuters) -Germany’s constitutional court on Wednesday dismissed emergency appeals against the government’s decision to impose night curfews in areas with high COVID-19 infections as some regions are eyeing a loosening of lockdown restrictions.

Germany last month passed a law giving Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government more powers to fight a third wave of the coronavirus, including curfews between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. in regions with high infection rates.

The constitutional court said in its ruling the rejection of the emergency appeals did not mean that the curfew was in line with Germany’s Basic Law, adding that the judges would take a closer look at the issue during the main hearing.

Merkel drew up the stricter rules after some of Germany’s 16 federal states refused to impose tough measures despite a surge in cases.

The court ruling came as data suggested that the stricter measures seemed to have helped to break the third wave of cases and push down infections.

Confirmed new coronavirus cases in Germany rose on Wednesday by 18,034 to 3,451,550, but that 24-hour figure was 4,000 lower than a week ago, and the seven-day incidence per 100,000 people dropped to 132 from 141 on Tuesday, the lowest in three weeks.

Legislation passed last month enabled the federal government to impose night-time curfews in areas where cases exceed 100 per 100,000 residents on three consecutive days, and even stricter curbs where cases go above 165 per 100,000.

Three of Germany’s states are now under the key threshold of 100 cases per 100,000 – Hamburg, Lower Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein – while three others are getting close – Berlin, Brandenburg and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.

The southern state of Bavaria said on Tuesday it would allow outdoor dining to resume from May 10 in areas where the incidence is under 100, and allow the tourism sector to reopen from May 21, when that part of the country has school holidays.

The state of Lower Saxony has also agreed to ease the rules for restaurants, tourism and retail for areas under 100.

Health Minister Jens Spahn called on the states to give priority to opening outdoor activities so as not to risk a new wave of infections.

On Tuesday, Germany’s cabinet agreed to ease restrictions on people who are fully vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19, a decree which could come into effect at the weekend.

After a sluggish start, the pace of vaccinations has been picking up in Germany and the number of people with coronavirus needing intensive care treatment in hospital has begun to fall.

(Reporting by Michael Nienaber, additional reporting by Andreas Rinke, editing by Mark Heinrich and Giles Elgood)

Constant fireworks frazzle nerves in U.S. city that never sleeps

By Barbara Goldberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Complaints are skyrocketing about thundering fireworks exploding over otherwise quiet U.S. neighborhoods, fraying nerves already frazzled by COVID-19 lockdown restrictions.

Even in the city that never sleeps, weary New Yorkers in the first half of June lodged a one-hundredfold increase in complaints compared to the year-ago period, of explosions that begin before sundown and rattle windows into the morning. The city’s 311 hotline received 2,492 fireworks complaints from June 1-16, up from just 25 in the same period in 2019.

The pyrotechnics occur almost nightly across the five boroughs of New York, once the U.S. epicenter of coronavirus infections, which recently achieved the nation’s lowest rate of virus spread.

“We have been terrorized by the fireworks for weeks now,” said Tanya Bonner, a government policy consultant in her 40s who lives in upper Manhattan, where Columbia University’s athletics complex had been converted into a COVID-19 field hospital.

“It is very bad up here. This area also has many essential workers – and they need rest.”

Bonner, who suffers from diabetes, high blood pressure and asthma and must leave her apartment windows open, said she can sleep only by turning her television volume “way up” even though “the fireworks happen so close to my window that it is impossible to drown it out.”

To get some shuteye, another upper Manhattan resident said she closes all windows and muffles the blasts by turning on a noisy air conditioner, a fan, a white noise machine and screwing in some tight-fitting earplugs.

“Fireworks are illegal in New York City,” New York Police Detective Sophia Mason responded in an email. But neighboring New Jersey legalized some fireworks in 2017.

From Jan. 1 through June 14, the New York Police Department has seized fireworks on 26 occasions, made eight arrests, issued 22 criminal court summonses, and responded to 2 fireworks-related injuries, Mason said.

In Massachusetts, which has the country’s strictest prohibitions against fireworks, police blamed a spike in complaints in Boston and other municipalities on a stretch of warmer weather after months of stay-at-home orders.

“It’s just been months now of young people being inside, being bored,” said Lieutenant Sean Murtha of the Worcester Police Department, roughly 47 miles (76 km) west of Boston.

“It’s been a stressful time for everybody, an oppressive time,” said Murtha, who noted recent reports of gunshots that turned out to be fireworks were double the five-year average, totaling 27 in May, the most recent data available.

In upstate New York, Syracuse residents said they were being pushed to the brink by the pyrotechnics and more than 530 have signed a petition demanding Mayor Ben Walsh “crack down on constant fireworks” that have been booming since May.

“These are not merely a nuisance, but extremely traumatic for service members with PTSD,” Scott Upham Jr., a Syracuse resident who started the petition, said on

Others said the noise was particularly bothersome for people with autism and family pets and worried that the fireworks create a fire hazard.

Mayor Walsh did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Additional reporting by Aleksandra Michalska; Editing by Richard Chang)