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HEALTH

German health officials warn against talking loudly, singing and laughing

Germany's public health agency has updated its advice on how coronavirus spreads, saying the risk of outbreaks heavily depends on "individual behaviour".

German health officials warn against talking loudly, singing and laughing
People social distancing and singing during the Dresden Open Air at the end of April 2020. Photo: DPA

The number of new daily coronavirus infections in Germany surged past 1,700 in 24 hours, the highest daily toll since April, figures showed Thursday.

Now experts from the the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) have updated their advice on the transmission of the virus, highlighting the role face-to-face contact plays in outbreaks.

In its latest daily report, the RKI reiterated that the SARS-Cov-2 virus “can be transmitted easily from person to person”.

The agency said the risk of infection depends “heavily on the regional spread, living conditions and also on individual behaviour (physical distancing, hygiene measures and community masks).

“Here, contacts in risk situations (such as long face-to-face contact) play a special role,” said the RKI.

The health agency highlighted the dangers of social gatherings.

“Aerosol emission increases sharply when speaking loudly, singing or laughing,” the RKI said. “In indoor rooms, this significantly increases the risk of transmission, even if a distance of more than 1.5 metres is maintained.

“If the minimum distance of 1.5m without covering the mouth and nose is not maintained, e.g. when groups of people sit at a table or in large gatherings, there is also an increased risk of transmission outdoors.”

Across the world, choirs have been linked to a number of Covid outbreaks. Many choir groups have moved their practice outdoors and include social distancing measures.

Large gatherings should be avoided

RKI called the rising number of cases in Germany “very concerning”. In total there have been 228,621 confirmed cases and 9,253 people have died in Germany.

“In the past few weeks the Covid-19 incidence has risen markedly in many federal states and the number of districts reporting zero Covid-19 cases over a period of 7 days has decreased considerably,” the health agency said.

Much of the rise has been blamed on returning holidaymakers as well as parties and family gatherings.

The RKI said outbreaks had been found in “nursing homes and hospitals, facilities for asylum-seekers and refugees, community facilities, meat-processing plants, agricultural and other occupational settings, as well as in the context of events with family and friends, religious events and travel”.

READ ALSO: 'The trend can't continue': Merkel rules out easing coronavirus restrictions as cases spike

Officials also said more younger people are picking up the virus at the moment.

The RKI said Germany must stop the situation from getting worse.

“On the one hand, the increase in younger age groups needs to be stopped, on the other hand, transmission into older and vulnerable groups needs to be prevented,” the agency said.

“As soon as the number of infections rises among elderly people, hospitalisations and the number of deaths will likely rise as well.”

Health officials urged people to remain cautious and do their bit.

“This can only be prevented if the entire population continues to be committed to decreasing transmission, e.g. by consistently observing rules of physical distancing and hygiene – also outdoors – by airing indoor areas and, where indicated, by wearing a community or face mask correctly.

“Large gatherings – especially indoors – should be avoided, and events with family and friends should be limited to close family members and friends.”

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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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