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ANGELA MERKEL

Explained: How Germany plans to step-up measures to stem coronavirus spread

From tougher face mask rules to banning events and putting a cap on the number of people at private parties: this is how Germany wants to control the spread of Covid-19.

Explained: How Germany plans to step-up measures to stem coronavirus spread
A sign for a Covid test centre in Bielefeld, North Rhine-Westphalia. Photo: DPA

Germany will impose tougher rules on mask wearing and keep fans out of stadiums until at the least the end of the year to combat a worrying rise in coronavirus infections.

Chancellor Angela Merkel met with the leaders of Germany's 16 federal states on Thursday for the first time since June to officially agree the new measures, which will apply nationwide, however there are some small regional differences.

Here's a rundown of the proposed new rules so far:

– Minimum nationwide mask fine

There's set to be a minimum fine of €50 for flouting requirements on mask wearing.

Until now each German state has set its own fines with penalties varying wildly, from €40 in Hamburg to €250 in Bavaria.

As part of the measures to stall the spread of the virus, people in Germany must wear a covering over their face and mouth when riding on public transport and in certain closed areas such as shops.

READ MORE: Germany agrees nationwide €50 fines for flouting mask rules

– Ban on large events extended

Germany also plans to extend a ban on large events from the end of October until December 31st 2020. It applies to everything from festivals and concerts to large sporting events with spectators.

The decision deals a blow to German football clubs which had been hoping to invite supporters back to their games this autumn.

Exceptions can be made in regions with very low infection rates if it is ensured that participants come exclusively from this region or from surrounding regions with similarly low rates.

READ MORE: Germany to extend large events ban and limit numbers at social gatherings

– Limits on number of people at private gatherings

German authorities also plan to tighten rules on smaller gatherings by asking people to have as few participants as possible. Originally the government wanted to impose a limit of 25 people at private parties.

“Unfortunately, the last few weeks have shown that celebrations in particular can spread infections among family or friends,” the draft resolution states. The limit of 25 participants should apply to meetings “in privately used rooms and in privately used properties”.

However, Merkel said this topic will be looked at again in the coming weeks.

READ ALSO: This is where people in Germany are becoming infected with coronavirus

However, this point could cause some contention among the 16 states. Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania's state premier Manuela Schwesig spoke out against a nationwide uniform rule for family celebrations.

“I will definitely not go along with this,” she said on Thursday morning on Deutschlandfunk radio. She said the local infection situation should be a factor.

The draft agreement strongly encourages people in Germany “to limit the number of people they come into contact with”, to keep a distance of 1.5 metres whenever possible and to opt for outdoor gatherings instead of indoor ones.

– Scrapping free tests for some travellers

Germany earlier this month introduced free mandatory tests for travellers returning from high-risk areas and free voluntary tests for those coming back from elsewhere.

But following criticism that German labs were becoming overburdened, the draft document says it will scrap the free tests for those returning from non-risk areas from September 15th.

Authorities also plan to step up controls to ensure people adhere to quarantine rules.

Returnees from risk areas will have to go into quarantine and will not be allowed to take a test before the fifth day after their return.

The quarantine can be ended after a negative result of this test. Bavaria will continue to provide free tests, also for returnees from non-risk areas, until at least October 1st.

Health Minister Jens Spahn had called for this mandatory tests to be scrapped after summer, with a focus on quarantine instead.

The government is also set to examine whether people returning from travel should pay for the test themselves.

Merkel called on people in Germany not to travel to risk areas if they could avoid it.

“We have decided today, and this is new, to call for travel to designated risk areas to be avoided wherever possible,” Merkel said.

READ ALSO: Merkel calls on Germans to avoid travel to coronavirus risk zones

Why are the rules being tightened?

Although Germany has weathered the pandemic well so far, the recent rise in coronavirus cases “must be taken very seriously”, the draft agreement states.

“The goal of the federal government and the states is to work together to reduce the infection numbers as much as possible.”

READ ALSO: Coronavirus – Five things to look out for in Germany this autumn

As in other countries, the upsurge of the past weeks has been mainly blamed on summer travel and private gatherings.

Germany on Thursday reported 1,507 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total to 237,936, according to the Robert Koch disease control institute.

The Bundesrepublik has so far recorded 9,285 deaths.

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COVID-19 RULES

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

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