First German state ends coronavirus social distancing requirements

The east German state of Thuringia will be the first in Germany to scrap social distancing requirements put in place to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

First German state ends coronavirus social distancing requirements
Outdoor diners in Apolda, Thuringia on May 15th. Photo: DPA

A new order was approved by the state cabinet Tuesday and is set to go into effect on Saturday, June 13th.

It will then no longer be a requirement that only two households, or a maximum of 10 people, can meet – and instead will be a recommendation.

Germany's federal and 16 state governments had originally agreed to extend the contact restrictions until June 29th, yet several states have already relaxed the rules. 

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

Face masks will remain mandatory in shops and on public transportation. However, the new rule will allow even more facilities to reopen. 

They will include indoor swimming and leisure pools, as well as spas, saunas and cinemas, as long as their infection control plans are first approved by the state government.

Village festivals and funfairs will be permitted again in individual cases. However, the new regulation states that festivals “particularly suitable to promote the spread of the pandemic” will not be approved.

Brothels, disco and swingers clubs will remain closed. State-supported theatres and orchestras are not to resume their performances until after August 31st, when the German-wide ban on large events is slated to end. 

Thuringia state premier Bodo Ramelow (of Die Linke/The Left) had already spoken out in favour of a new strategy at the end of May, according to which there should no longer be any coronavirus restrictions, but rather local rules to be decided on by municipalities. 

Ramelow’s proposal faced criticism from those who feared the sudden relaxation could lead to an uptick in case numbers.

Yet it was also met with approval, with some arguing that the state has shown very few new cases and voluntary measures could keep the virus from spreading.

In the last seven days, Thuringia has reported 72 coronavirus cases, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, and has reported 3,100 overall.

READ ALSO: First German state set to end coronavirus restrictions in early June

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Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

German health ministers say that tougher Covid restrictions should come back into force if a serious wave emerges in autumn.

Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

Following a video meeting on Monday, the health ministers of Germany’s 16 states said tougher restrictions should be imposed again if they are needed. 

“The corona pandemic is not over yet – we must not be deceived by the current declining incidences,” said Saxony-Anhalt’s health minister Petra Grimm-Benne, of the Social Democrats, who currently chairs the Conference of Health Ministers (GMK).

According to the GMK, new virus variants are expected to appear in autumn and winter. Over the weekend, federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) also warned that the more dangerous Delta variant could return to Germany. “That is why the federal Ministry of Health should draw up a master plan to combat the corona pandemic as soon as possible and coordinate it with the states,” Grimm-Benne said.

Preparations should also include an amendment of the Infection Protection Act, ministers urged. They want to see the states given powers to react to the infection situation in autumn and winter. They called on the government to initiate the legislative process in a timely manner, and get the states actively involved.

The current Infection Protection Act expires on September 23rd this year. Germany has loosened much of its Covid restrictions in the last months, however, face masks are still compulsory on public transport as well as on planes. 

READ ALSO: Do people in Germany still have to wear Covid masks on planes?

The health ministers said that from autumn onwards, it should be possible for states to make masks compulsory indoors if the regional infection situation calls for it. Previously, wearing a Covid mask was obligatory in Germany when shopping and in restaurants and bars when not sitting at a table. 

Furthermore, the so-called 3G rule for accessing some venues and facilities – where people have to present proof of vaccination, recovery, or a negative test – should be implemented again if needed, as well as other infection protection rules, the ministers said. 

Bavaria’s health minister Klaus Holetschek, of the CSU, welcomed the ministers’ unanimous call for a revision of the Infection Protection Act. “The states must be able to take all necessary infection protection measures quickly, effectively, and with legal certainty,” he said.

North Rhine-Westphalia’s health minister Karl-Josef Laumann (CDU) warned that no one should “lull themselves into a false sense of security”.

“We must now prepare for the colder season and use the time to be able to answer important questions about the immunity of the population or the mechanisms of infection chains,” he said.

On Tuesday, Germany reported 86,253 Covid infections within the latest 24 hour period, as well as 215 Covid-related deaths. The 7-day incidence stood at 437.6 infections per 100,000 people. However, experts believe there could be twice as many infections because lots of cases go unreported. 

READ ALSO: Five things to know about the Covid pandemic in Germany right now