EXPLAINED: What to know about Germany’s social distancing rules

Germany extended social distancing restrictions until June 29th. Here's an overview of the current rules.

EXPLAINED: What to know about Germany's social distancing rules
People walking in Leipzig on May 25th. Photo: DPA

Germany wants to continue to slow the spread of coronavirus. On Tuesday May 26th, the government and states agreed to extend the so-called contact restrictions up to June 29th.

They had initially been extended until June 5th, and were put in place in mid-March to stem the spread of Covid-19.

READ ALSO: Germany extends coronavirus distance rules to June 29th

The federal government says that if outbreaks occur then further contact restrictions or measures can be implemented.

Here's an overview of the general rules, although the restrictions can differ in each of Germany's 16 federal states. For example, Thuringia is ending social distancing requirements on June 13th and will replace them with recommendations.

Check with state authorities for the most up-to-date restrictions list.

  • In order to prevent the coronavirus from spreading and to protect individuals from becoming infected, people in Germany must continue to maintain a minimum distance of 1.5 metres from each other in public places (excluding families and people who live in the same household)
  • Currently, people from two separate households are allowed to meet in public. Now, individual states can choose to keep this rule or allow up to 10 people – or the members of two households – to meet in public
  • Private gatherings are allowed – but people are urged to stick to social distancing rules – again, though, this can vary from state to state
  • The government recommends that residents keep the number of people they are in contact with with as low as possible and keep their circle of friends/family as consistent as possible.
  • In certain public places, such as shops and public transport, the use of face masks is mandatory

'The virus is still there'

The number of new Covid-19 infections in Germany is at a “low level” a month after the restrictions were eased, signalling that distance and hygiene rules have been well implemented and observed, the government said.

“We would like to thank all citizens who have made this possible and who consistently adhere to these rules,” said the government and states in the new document outlining the rules. “However, the virus is still there and will spread very quickly without such measures.”

READ ALSO: Coronavirus: How to do social distancing in Germany

The government says this was evident before the restrictions came into place in mid-March in Germany, and that trend is also being seen in local outbreaks or at gatherings. 

“Therefore, particularly in view of the gradual opening of all areas of life and the associated increase in contacts, it is essential that rules of distance and hygiene remain integrated into everyday life” as long as there is no vaccine or treatment, said the government.

Authorities say that people should be able to trace contacts so that infection chains can be stamped out quickly.

READ ALSO: Why it's still not possible to hug all your friends and family in Germany

The government and states have agreed on hygiene and distancing plans for areas such as sport, culture and transport to allow the reopening of more public life.

When it comes to meetings (such as in the workplace or at home), these are the new rules:

  • Hygiene and distance rules should also be implemented for private meetings at home in closed rooms, and the number of people should be measured according to the possibility of observing the 1.5 metre distance rule
  • Sufficient ventilation should be provided through opening windows and the number of people should be limited accordingly
  • Where possible, private meetings should be held outdoors, as there is a considerably lower risk of infection
  • The traceability of all meeting participants should be guaranteed

Throughout the pandemic, you should also try and follow these guidelines:

  • Cough or sneeze into your elbow, use disposable tissues and throw them away
  • Wash your hands regularly, especially after being outside and before you eat
  • Avoid crowds or groups of people
  • Avoid gestures, such as shaking hands or hugging
  • Ventilate rooms in your home regularly
  • Try to avoid using public transport when possible
  • Try and avoid travelling if possible – even within Germany (there are many border restrictions at the moment)
  • Try and avoid shopping during busy periods
  • Keep a distance of 1.5 to 2 metres from other people

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Pandemic in Germany unlikely to end this year, says top virologist

High profile German virologist Christian Drosten believes Germany will see a severe spike in Covid infections after summer, and that the pandemic will not become endemic this year.

Pandemic in Germany unlikely to end this year, says top virologist

Drosten previously said that Germany would probably be able to declare the end of the pandemic this year.

But in an interview with Spiegel, Drosten said he had reevaluated his opinion. 

“When the Alpha variant came, it was very surprising for me. When Delta appeared I was sceptical at first, then with Omicron we had to reorient ourselves again. And since January there have already been new Omicron subtypes.

“So I would actually like to correct myself: I no longer believe that by the end of the year we will have the impression that the pandemic is over.”

READ ALSO: End is in sight for pandemic in Germany, says virologist 

Drosten also said that Germany will not see a largely Covid-free summer, which has been the case in previous years, and a further increase in infections in autumn. 

“We are actually already seeing an exponential increase in case numbers again,” Drosten said.

“The BA.5 variant (of Omicron) is simply very transmissible, and people are losing their transmission protection from the last vaccination at the same time.”

In other countries, he said, when the number of cases become high, hospitalisation and death rates also rise again. “Unfortunately, that will also be the case here,” said Drosten, but added: “Overall, however, far fewer people will become seriously ill and die than in 2021.”

Drosten said he expected many more infections from September.

“I hope that the school holidays will dampen the increase in cases somewhat. But from September, I fear we will have very high case numbers,” the head of the virology department at Berlin’s Charité hospital told Spiegel.

READ ALSO: German Health Minister lays out autumn Covid plan

Virologist Christian Drosten at a Covid press conference in 2021.

Virologist Christian Drosten at a Covid press conference in 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

If the government does not take any action, he predicted there would be a lot of sick leave across all industries. “That will become a real problem,” he said.

Drosten said he did not expect overcrowded intensive care units in Germany.

But the new BA.5 sub-variant, which is becoming dominant in Germany, may affect people more strongly. 

“The wheel is turning more towards disease again,” said Drosten. It is not true that a virus automatically becomes more and more harmless in the course of evolution. “That makes me even more worried about the autumn,” he said.

Drosten recommends wearing masks indoors during the colder months, saying it is “the least painful” measure.

If, in addition, “up to 40 million people could be immunised or given a booster vaccination” before winter, for example by urgently calling for company vaccinations, that would “really make a difference”, Drosten said.

In the long term, he said it’s inevitable that people will become infected with coronavirus.

He said the population immunity due to vaccinations and infections will at some point be so strong that the virus will become less important. “Then we will be in an endemic state,” said Drosten. In the worst case, however, this could take “several more winters”.

However, Drosten warned against people trying to deliberately infect themselves with Covid, saying getting the infection in summer doesn’t mean people will be protected in winter. 

Drosten himself said he has not yet contracted Covid-19.

“So far, I guess I’ve just been lucky,” he said. “I rarely put myself in risky situations, but I’m not overly cautious either.”

‘Pandemic depends on behaviour’

According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI)’s latest weekly report, more outbreaks are occurring in care homes, and the number of patients in intensive care units is slightly rising as infections go up. 

The institute said there had been a 23 percent increase in the 7-day incidence compared to the previous week. On Friday the 7-day incidence stood at 618.2 infections per 100,000 people. There were 108,190 infections within the latest 24 hour period and 90 deaths. 

“The further course of the pandemic depends not only on the occurrence of new virus variants and the uptake of vaccinations on offer, it also depends to a large extent on the behaviour of the population,” said the RKI.

According to the DIVI intensive care register, the number of Covid-19 patients in ICUs had increased to 810 on Thursday this week, from about 600 at the beginning of the month.

However, that number is still low compared to previous Covid peaks when thousands of people were in intensive care in Germany.