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HEALTH

Germany aims to end coronavirus border controls by June 15th

Germany said Wednesday it aimed to end by the middle of next month checks at land borders introduced to fight the coronavirus as infection rates slow.

Germany aims to end coronavirus border controls by June 15th
A border at Echternach, Luxembourg on May 8th. German police stand in the background to guard the entry into Germany. Photo: DPA

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer told reporters Europe's top economy had “set the clear goal of free travel in Europe by mid-June” and would begin easing some border checks this week.

Restrictions on crossing the border imposed two months ago would be ended with Luxembourg and eased with Austria, Switzerland and France from Friday, enabling business trips and family visits to take place.

The border controls with those neighbours would then end on June 15th, assuming the virus outbreak is still seen to be under control.

The total opening of borders “depends on our continuing to do our all to fight the infection”, Seehofer said, warning against complacency in light of the encouraging data in Germany.

Seehofer said the agreements on loosening the measures had been reached in bilateral talks with neighbours this week.

He said that travel from non-EU countries such as the United States and Russia would remain restricted until at least June 15th.

Germany still has a warning in force until mid-June against taking foreign holidays despite the easing of regulations among European partners.

A border control between Germany and Austria in March. Photo: DPA

“We can surely ease the travel warning for Europe sooner than for other destinations, assuming the positive trend in several countries holds steady,” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said.   

With the tourism sector reeling, the European Commission on Wednesday urged
EU countries to gradually reopen shuttered internal borders and to treat each
member state according to the same criteria.

This would mean that countries with comparable health situations would use the same standards on border openings.

Use of all borders

Furthermore, all border crossings will again be allowed to be used, reported DPA. In recent weeks, only a few major routes were open for cross-border traffic.

In many places this had led to traffic jams and detours for commuters. In future, the federal police should only carry out “flexible and risk-based” checks, and “not as systematically as before,” said Seehofer. 

READ ALSO: Germany imposes border controls with five countries due to coronavirus crisis

For the last two months, those who have a “good reason” to cross the border – such as commuters, medical workers or EU citizens on their way home – have been allowed to enter into Germany. 

Depending on the case, people were also sometimes allowed to cross due to caring for relatives, or for other family reasons. 

This Wednesday, the EU Commission will also present a plan for the cautious opening of the internal borders in Europe. 

According to a draft submitted to DPA, controls are to be gradually lifted throughout Europe. 

However, even as controls are lifted, Seehofer urged Germans to refrain from holiday trips abroad for the time being – also because a return trip could become difficult due to possible newly imposed coronavirus measures.
 
“It is European to fight a dangerous virus together. It is not European to evade joint responsibility for uncomfortable measures,” Seehofer said.
 
Earlier on Wednesday, Austria also announced that it was planning to open up its border with Germany on June 15th. 

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COVID-19 RULES

Masks and no lockdowns: Germany’s new Covid plan from autumn to Easter

Germany has unveiled a draft of new Covid laws to run until April next year, with mask mandates set to remain in force, but lockdowns and school closures ruled out. Here's what we know so far.

Masks and no lockdowns: Germany's new Covid plan from autumn to Easter

The German government has prepared a graduated plan to try and limit the spread of Covid-19 this autumn. Under the new draft Infection Protection Act, states will be allowed to put in place certain rules to protect the population against Covid, from October. 

It was unveiled by the Health Ministry and Justice Ministry on Wednesday. 

Among the plans are for masks to remain compulsory in long-distance transport and in hospitals. They could also be made compulsory in other indoor areas, such as restaurants, but usually with exceptions for those who are recently vaccinated, recovered or tested. 

“If the number of cases rises sharply – masks (can also be enforced) outdoors where distances are not sufficient, and upper limits indoors,” said Health Minister Karl Lauterbach, of the Social Democrats, in a tweet where he showcased the plans. 

How long will the law be in place?

The current Infection Protection Act runs out on September 23rd. The new laws, which form the legal basis for Covid-19 measures in Germany, will apply from October 1st to April 7th 2023.

READ ALSO: Masks and tests: The Covid rules that tourists to Germany should know about

What are the draft plans?

As shown above in the diagram tweeted by the Health Minister in German, the rules have been divided into “”winter tyres” (Winterreifen)  and “snow chains” (Schneeketten), which is meant to represent possible different stages.

There are rules that will apply to the whole of Germany during the autumn/winter and early spring, certain measures that states can bring in, and the option for tougher restrictions if the situation worsens.

Nationwide protective measures from October 1st 2022 to April 7th 2023:

– Mandatory FFP2 masks on airplanes and on long-distance public transport.

– Mandatory masks and testing for access to hospitals and similar facilities, as well as for employees.

– Exceptions to the requirement to provide proof of testing are envisaged for recently vaccinated and recovered people, as well as for people who are being treated in the respective facilities or service providers.

– Exemptions from the mask requirement are provided for some people receiving treatment, for children under six, for people who can’t wear a mask for medical reasons, and for deaf and hard of hearing people.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach wears an FFP2 mask at a conference in June.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach wears an FFP2 mask at a conference in June. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

Optional tougher measures for states:

Under the draft plan, states can take additional measures if the pandemic situation requires. These include:

– Mandatory masks on public and regional transport.

– Mandatory masks in indoor spaces such as restaurants and cultural facilities. However, the plans envisage exceptions for people who have tested negatively against Covid, or who have been vaccinated or recently recovered. This could mean that the so-called ‘3G rule’ returns.

– Compulsory testing and/or masks in certain communal facilities (such as shelters for asylum seekers and children’s homes). Compulsory masks in schools would only apply to pupils from the fifth school year onwards.

Extreme measures when situation is critical:

State parliaments can enact even stricter measures if there is a threat of the health system or critical infrastructure becoming overburdened. These include:

– Compulsory wearing of masks indoors – and even outdoors if the minimum distance of 1.5 metre cannot be maintained. An exemption for recently vaccinated, tested or recovered people wouldn’t apply. 

– Mandatory health and safety plans (such as disinfectants and ventilation) for businesses and events in the recreational, cultural and sports sectors.

– Ordering a minimum distance of 1.5 m in public spaces and at outdoor events.

– Upper limits for participants at events in indoor areas.

What else should I know?

Justice Minister Marco Buschmann, of the Free Democrats, said it was important that Germany would not see further lockdowns, but that masks were a key part of the plan. 

“There should only be restrictions on freedom if they are necessary,” said Buschmann. “Our concept therefore rejects lockdowns and curfews.

“Instead, we rely on measures that are both effective and reasonable. Masks protect. And in certain situations, mandatory masks are also reasonable.

Justice Minister Marco Buschmann (FDP)

Justice Minister Marco Buschmann (FDP) gives an interview to DPA on February 3rd. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler

“That is why masks will be compulsory in hospitals and nursing homes as well as in long-distance transport. If the pandemic situation so requires, the states can also order compulsory masks for other areas of public life indoors. In culture, leisure, sport and gastronomy, however, there must be exceptions for tested, newly vaccinated and newly recovered persons.”

Buschmann said Germany was also relying on “individual responsibility of civil society – as most other European states do”.

He added that the government was paying “special attention” to schools.

“Children have a right to school education, and a school day that is as carefree as possible,” he said. “Therefore, there must be no school closures. A blanket obligation to wear masks in schools would also not be appropriate.”

What happens next?

The Cabinet will take a look at the proposals before the final draft goes to the Bundestag to be voted on. 

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