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HEALTH

Germany reforms coronavirus laws: What you need to know

On Wednesday, Germany’s federal government cleared the way for changes in the Infection Protection Act planned by the grand coalition of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and Social Democrats (SPD).

Germany reforms coronavirus laws: What you need to know
Jens Spahn speaking in the Bundestag on Wednesday. Photo: DPA

In the parliament (Bundestag) 415 delegates voted on Wednesday in favour of the reform, which aims to give coronavirus measures a stronger legal footing. A full 236 voted against it, while eight abstained in the roll-call vote. 

During parallel protests, several thousand participants rallied against the change in the law as well as current coronavirus measures on Wednesday. There were clashes with police and more than 100 arrests. 

READ ALSO: UPDATE: Berlin protesters clash with police in shutdown demo

Here’s what you need to know about the new law.

So, what exactly does the reform do?

The aim of the reformed law is, among other things, to provide legal support for coronavirus measures that have so far been issued by decree and to lay them down in concrete terms. 

In the Infection Protection Act, there was previously only general talk of “necessary protective measures” which the “competent authority” can take. 

With the amendment to the law, a new paragraph will be inserted that specifically lists the possible protective measures that can be taken by state governments and authorities, such as distance requirements, restrictions on going out and social distancing requirements.

It will also list restrictions that can be put in place in the cultural and leisure sector – essentially measures that were already taken during the lockdown in the spring and some of which also apply now during the partial lockdown in November.

The law also stipulates that, after the so-called 7-day incidence of 35 and 50 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants in a week, protective measures are to be taken. It also states that ordinances with anti-coronavirus measures are limited to four weeks, with the possibility of extension. 

In addition, the ordinances must be accompanied by a general justification from the government.

Will it help those affected financially from future protective measures?

The law also includes new rules on loss of earnings. For example, compensation claims for parents who cannot work because of childcare are to be extended and expanded until March 2021. 

On the other hand, those who make an “avoidable trip” to foreign risk areas should not receive compensation for loss of earnings for the necessary quarantine upon their return. 

In addition, the government should be able to regulate that uninsured people are also entitled to vaccinations and tests. Hospitals that suspend non-timely operations are also slated to receive financial compensation.

The Infection Protection Act has already been reformed several times in the course of the coronavirus pandemic. 

At the beginning of spring, it was reformed so that the Bundestag could officially identify an epidemic situation of national importance, which it did so immediately at the time. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Is the coronavirus situation in Germany improving?

Who was in favour of the new law?

In the debate, federal Health Minister Jens Spahn defended the coronavirus restrictions and asked for further trust in government crisis management. 

Rising infection figures are what led to increasing suffering in intensive care units and to a loss of control, said the CDU politician. 

In the Bundestag, Social Democratic health policy expert Bärbel Bas rejected fears that the reform of the Infection Protection Act would extend powers for federal and state governments

“The exact opposite is the case,” she said, implying that it helps put their powers in check by placing limits on it.

Who was against it?

At the beginning of the debate, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) had initially tried to take the topic off the agenda, but failed due to the united resistance of the other factions. 

The parliamentary director of the AfD faction, Bernd Baumann, said: “Today's bill is an authorisation of the government, the likes of which has not been seen since historical times.”

Members of other parliamentary groups rejected the accusations. 

Carsten Schneider, parliamentary secretary of the SPD faction, said that the AfD was making a comparison to the Enabling Act of 1933 before Hitler came into power.

“They not only discredit our democracy, but they make it contemptible,” he said.

But the AfD was not the only parliamentary party that spoke against the reformed law, with members of the Free Democrats (FDP), Greens and Left Party also speaking out. 

“It’s fundamental democratic question of principle that governments should never be allowed to decide on such massive encroachments on basic rights and freedoms,” said Jan Korte, parliamentary managing director of the Left Party (Die Linke).

Member comments

  1. It’d be great if you could also point out the future travel restrictions and the new data information system led by the Robert Koch Institut, an initiative which requires travelers to Germany to inform the Insitut up to 10 days prior to the arrival and provide personal details. People from risk areas furthermore have to provide a negative test and vaccine documentation.

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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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