The German authorities warn against singing and several states have banned it from church services for fear of spreading the corona virus.
The “increased production of potentially contagious droplets” when singing means choirs face a longer shutdown, even as shops and restaurants reopen, the government says.
Lothar Wieler, the head of the German RKI disease institute, says that the drops can ‘fly very far’ while singing.
In one case, at least 40 people were infected during a church service in Frankfurt, where the congregation had sung and was not wearing masks.
Worshipers returned to Berlin Cathedral earlier this month (pictured) after churches were allowed to reopen – but the government has warned against singing
The transmission of the virus is not yet fully understood, but anecdotal evidence was enough to convince the German authorities that singing is a risky activity.
Berlin choral director Tobias Brommann says while singing ‘you breathe and exhale very deeply’, which means that ‘if virus particles float in the air, they can get into the lungs relatively quickly’.
Brommann and 30 of his choristers were affected by the virus in early March, while another 30 showed symptoms.
“We also can’t be sure that those without symptoms were also infected because we didn’t do antibody tests,” he said.
The choir had gathered for a rehearsal on March 9, when Berlin had fewer than 50 cases and public events were still allowed.
More recently, there was a wave of infections after a church service in Frankfurt, with authorities now trying to track down all the worshipers.
At least 107 people were affected by the outbreak, some of whom thought it was people who were subsequently infected.
In recommendations for the resumption of church services, the federal government stated that singing should be avoided “because of the increased production of potentially infectious droplets, which can be spread over greater distances.”
Several states have followed the advice and banned the singing of services.
There is also some scientific evidence to suggest that singing produces particularly high numbers of potentially infectious microparticles.
According to a study published in the Nature journal in 2019, saying ‘aah’ for 30 seconds produces twice as many such particles as 30 seconds of coughing.
There have been no choir rehearsals since the beginning of March in the Church of the Twelve Apostles in Berlin’s Schoeneberg district.
59-year-old soprano Heike Benda-Blanck has been singing there for 10 years. “I miss it,” she said. “You can still sing in the shower, but it’s not the same.”
Bundesliga football matches are currently played behind closed doors (photo yesterday Dortmund v Bayern) without risk of raw singing
Some studies give rise to optimism. The Bundeswehr University in Munich published a study in early May that showed that singing only disrupts airflow up to half a meter (1.6 ft) for the person.
Freiburg University’s Institute for Performing Arts Medicine has also published guidelines for singing with similar results.
However, Institute Head Bernhard Richter warns that the study did not include aerosol measurements – tiny particles that could circulate much further in a room.
The institute published updated guidelines this week, including limiting the number of people in the room and the duration of rehearsals.
“This is a work in progress,” said Richter. “Of course singers want clear statements, black and white, but then you have to say, maybe we don’t know yet.”
In proposals to the authorities, the German Catholic Church has endorsed ‘silent singing’ in services and limited the number. The Protestant Church, on the other hand, continues to recommend a complete ban.
It remains to be seen whether the singing can be controlled at other events in Germany, such as Bundesliga football matches, which are played behind closed doors until further notice.
Singing may also spread the virus at major events such as rock concerts and the Oktoberfest beer festival, where vocal singing is an integral part of the procedure – although it has already been canceled before 2020.
A Interior Ministry spokesperson said that since all major events are banned in Germany until August 31 at least, this remains a “hypothetical question.”
“It depends on how the infection develops,” he said.
Under new rules, Germans can meet friends in the park, dine at a restaurant, exercise, go to church, browse the shops, watch football, and even swim.
The latest figures from the RKI today showed a total of 179,364 cases in Germany, an increase of 362 since yesterday.
Germany has suffered 8,349 deaths – a lower rate than in Britain, France, Spain or Italy – with 47 in the past day.