BERLIN — More than 20,000 people demonstrated Saturday in eastern Germany against government-imposed restrictions meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus after a court rejected the city of Leipzig's attempt to move the protest away from a central square, police said.
By the city's calculations, only 5,000 people could gather in Augustusplatz plaza and keep 1.5 meters (5 feet) away from one another. With protest organizers saying they expected at least 16,000 participants, administrators had sought to have the demonstration moved to a larger location outside the city's center.
“It is hard to explain how only two households are permitted to meet together and yet 16,000 people are allowed to demonstrate on one plaza,” city spokesman Matthias Hasberg told German news agency dpa after the appeals court issued its decision,
The court did not issue details about its reasoning.
Few people at the protest wore masks or kept their distance from others despite police warning from megaphones and officers walking through the crowds on foot to caution them. One woman carried a sign that read “For: truth, justice and freedom” while wearing a mask over her eyes and leaving her nose and mouth uncovered.
The city ordered the event shut down a little more than two hours after it began due to mask non-compliance.
Many protesters refused to leave. Police warned on social media that they were videotaping participants to document who was committing crimes or civil infractions with their behavior. About half the crowd remained when it got dark outside.
At a smaller counter-demonstration nearby, people waved signs urging respect for coronavirus restrictions.
The demonstration came as Germany finished its first week of what is being called “lockdown light” with new restrictions to try and slow spiking coronavirus cases.
The country's disease control center, the Robert Koch Institute said Saturday that Germany’s states had reported 23,300 new daily cases, surpassing the record of 21,506 set the day before when Germany for the first time registered more than 20,000 confirmed cases in 24 hours.
A four-week partial shutdown that took effect Monday closed bars, restaurants, leisure centers and sports facilities, and imposed new restrictions on contact with other people. Shops and schools remain open.
The Robert Koch Institute says any effects from the measures will be seen two to three weeks from the start of the closures.
In Munich, an appeals court on Saturday upheld the southern city’s ban on demonstrations against coronavirus restrictions that were scheduled for Saturday and Sunday.
The court ruled authorities in the Bavarian city were within their rights to ban the demonstrations under infection protection regulations, dpa reported.