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‘Premature plan’: Row on opening schools and Kitas intensifies in Germany

Schools and Kitas around Germany have been reopening - but a row has broken out over both the speed and strictness at which they're doing so.

'Premature plan': Row on opening schools and Kitas intensifies in Germany
Children at a Kita in Schwerin, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania on May 20th after it reopened on May 18th. Photo: DPA

In some states, such as Thuringia, all primary school students will return to the classroom at the same time, with municipalities able to decide for themselves if social distancing requirements should be put in place.

READ ALSO: State by state: When are schools and Kitas around Germany reopening?

Yet politicians and researchers have warned against a quick return to normality amid uncertainty about how the virus can spread among children.

“The truth is that we currently have a situation which is being studied, and that does not allow any real conclusions to be drawn about the extent to which children contribute to the spread of the virus,” Health Minister Jens Spahn told the newspaper Augsburger Allgemeine on Thursday. 

“There are very different evaluations – and that makes it particularly difficult to make political decisions.”

Spahn pointed out that new scientific knowledge about the virus was available almost daily. This also forces politicians to change assessments and adapt new measures.

READ ALSO: When and how will Germany's daycare centres reopen?

“The areas of kindergarten and primary school are particularly difficult,” he said.

Slowly reopening – but huge differences among states

In order to contain the spread of coronavirus, all of Germany's 16 state states closed schools and day-care centers (Kitas) in mid-March. 

In the meantime, school operations are being gradually ramped up around the country, but there is no uniform procedure on when pupils can return to the classroom or daycare.

Last Monday, Saxony was the first state in Germany to reopen primary schools and daycare centres at limited capacity. Instead of relying on small groups and distance rules, groups and classes are separated from each other.

Schleswig-Holstein also decided on Wednesday that all primary school children there should go back to the classroom from June 8th on a daily basis.

Starting in mid-June, Saxony-Anhalt is also aiming to have a full-class operation for primary school pupils again. In Baden-Württemberg this is planned from the end of June.

Full day-care centre openings are also on the horizon, with many states planning a full opening by start of summer holidays on June 29th.

READ ALSO: State by state: When (and how) will Germany's schools reopen again?

Yet the trade union for education and science (GEW) considers the health of educators and teachers to be at risk through the states' “premature” move to reopen.

The plans are considered premature, said GEW state chair Astrid Henke. The larger the group of children, the greater the danger to the health of the educators, she said. 

Children at a Kita in Schriesheim, Baden-Württemberg washing their hands on May 18th. Photo: DPA

“People should continue to keep a distance of 1.5 metres between themselves. However, this should not apply to 25 children in primary school classes that are often too small and difficult to ventilate. What a contradiction,” said Henke.

The President of the German Teachers' Association, Heinz-Peter Meidinger, also warned against resuming full school operations.

“This requires a completely new hygiene and health protection plan, which cannot simply be pulled out of a hat”, Meidinger told the Passauer Neue Presse on Thursday.

If distance rules were to be dispensed with and all pupils brought back into the classroom, breathing masks in class, comprehensive testing, small study groups throughout the school day and regular ventilation would be necessary.

“The current hygiene concept of the Conference of Education Ministers would have to be completely revised,” said Meidinger.

'A lost generation'

The German Children's Aid Association, on the other hand, warned of serious consequences for children and young people if schools and Kitas were not to reopen completely soon.

“We must not allow the collateral damage to grow,” President Thomas Krüger told Die Welt on Thursday. 

“The lack of the familiar teaching and learning environment is a serious interference with the living environment and the fundamental rights of children, which also impairs their psycho-social development.”

There is also the fear of disadvantages they carry on later on in life to the labour market.

“We will have to deal with a lost generation if we do not quickly open up schools and day-care centres completely,” said Krüger.

The Left Party (Die Linke) reiterated its call for a summit meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel before the summer break. 

“A key political goal for the coming weeks should be to ensure that schools and daycare centres throughout Germany can resume regular operations by the end of the summer break,” faction leader Dietmar Bartsch told the daily Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung.

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COVID-19 RULES

EXPLAINED: The Covid rules in place across German states

Many Covid restrictions have been dropped in Germany, but some rules remain in place. And as infections increase again, it's important to be aware of what you should do if you get Covid.

EXPLAINED: The Covid rules in place across German states

Germany has relaxed or changed many Covid restrictions in recent months. However, with Covid infections rocketing again, people are reminding themselves of what rules remain in place, and what they have to do if they get a positive test.

Here’s a quick roundup of what you should know. 

Face masks

Covid masks have to be worn when travelling on public transport, including planes departing to and from Germany. 

They also have to be worn in places where there are more vulnerable people, such as care homes, hospitals and doctor offices. 

Masks are not mandatory anymore in shops (including supermarkets) and restaurants, but individual businesses can enforce the rule so watch out for signs on the door. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s current Covid mask rules

FFP2 masks have become the standard in Germany, but in some cases other medical masks are sufficient.

There are no longer any entry rules to public venues such as the 3G or 2G rule, meaning that people had to show proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative test. 

However, they could return in autumn if the infection protection laws are adapted, and if the Covid situation gets worse.

Mandatory isolation 

The rules on isolation differ from state to state, but there is one general requirement: those who test positive for Covid have to go into isolation at home and avoid all contact with people outside the household. The isolation period lasts at least five days or a maximum of 10 days.

If you get a positive result at home, you should go to a test centre and undergo a rapid antigen test. If it is positive, the quarantine obligation kicks in. If it is negative, you have to get a PCR test.

If you have Covid symptoms, you should contact your doctor, local health authorities or the non-emergency medical on-call service on 116 117. They can advise or whether you should get a PCR test. 

Across German states, the isolation period lasts 10 days, but – as we mentioned above – there are differences on how it can end earlier. 

In Berlin, for instance, it can be shortened from the fifth day with a negative test if you have been symptom free for 48 hours. If this isn’t the case, the isolation is extended until you have been symptom-free for 48 hours and tested negative. But you can leave without a negative test after 10 days. 

A positive Covid test.

A positive Covid test. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sebastian Gollnow

Anyone who tests positive for Covid using a rapid test at a testing centre can have a free PCR test to confirm whether they have Covid-19. If the PCR test is negative, there is no obligation to go into quarantine.

In Bavaria, the isolation period is five days after the first positive test. For isolation to end on day five you must be symptom free for at least 48 hours. Otherwise, isolation is extended for 48 hours at a time until the maximum of 10 days. 

A test-to-release is not needed to end the isolation, unless the person works in a medical setting. 

READ ALSO: Germany sets out new Covid isolation rules

After isolation, Bavaria recommends that you wear an FFP2 mask in public places indoors and reduce contact for an extra five days. 

The state of Hesse has a similar system to Bavaria where a test is not needed to end the isolation early (unless the person works in a medical setting).

In North Rhine-Westphalia and Hamburg, residents can end their Covid isolation on the fifth day if they get a negative test (carried out at a testing centre). Otherwise the isolation period continues until the 10th day, or until they get a negative test.

Close contacts of people infected with Covid (including household contacts) no longer have to quarantine in Germany, but they are advised to get tested regularly and monitor for symptoms, as well as reduce contacts for five days. 

As ever, check with your local authority for the detailed rules.

Travel

Germany recently provisionally dropped almost all of its Covid travel restrictions, making it much easier to enter the country. 

The changes mean that entry into Germany is now allowed for all travel purposes, including tourism. The move makes travel easier – and cheaper – for people coming from non-EU countries, particularly families who may have needed multiple Covid tests for children. 

People also no longer have to show proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative test against Covid before coming to Germany – the so-called 3G rule. 

However, if a country is classed as a ‘virus variant’ region, tougher rules are brought in. 

It is likely that travel rules could be reinstated again after summer or if the Covid situation gets worse so keep an eye on any developments. 

READ ALSO: Germany drops Covid entry restrictions for non-EU travellers

Vaccine mandate

The mandate making Covid vaccinations compulsory for medical staff remains in place. A vaccine mandate that would have affected more of the population in Germany was rejected by the Bundestag in a vote in April

READ ALSO: Germany’s top court approves Covid vaccine mandate for health care workers

Workplaces

Masks are no longer mandatory in workplaces, unless it is in a setting where more risks groups are, such as hospitals or care homes. 

The government no longer requires people to work from home, but employers and employees can reach their own ‘home office’ arrangement.

Tests are also no longer mandatory, but workplaces can offer their employees regular tests. 

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