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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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German health agency expects number of Covid ICU patients to rise

The Covid pandemic is continuing to cause problems around Germany, with concerns that the number of patients needing treatment will rise in the coming weeks.

German health agency expects number of Covid ICU patients to rise

In its weekly Covid report, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) said that confirmed infections appeared to be rising in some German states, and falling in others.

But experts warned that the situation remained tense, with many infections not reported. 

Therefore, in the coming weeks, “hospitalisations, an increase in intensive care treatment and deaths are to be expected, especially among the elderly”, said the RKI.

People over the age of 80 “continue to be most affected by severe courses of the disease”, the experts said in their report. 

The incidence of infections is continuing to rise for this age group, and the number of outbreaks of Covid-19 in medical treatment facilities as well as in old people’s and nursing homes is going up.

READ ALSO: Which Covid rules are likely to return to Germany in autumn?

The number of patients with Covid-19 being treated in intensive care units (ICUs) is also rising slightly. In the previous week, the number was reported to be around 1,330. And on Thursday July 28th, 1,550 people were in ICUs in Germany with 484 receiving ventilation treatment, according to the DIVI intensive care register. 

The number of deaths in connection with the virus is currently around just over 400 per week. The RKI says this trend is a plateau.

When it comes to the overall picture of Covid in Germany, the RKI said there was a “sideways movement rather than a decreasing trend”.

Last week, the nationwide 7-day incidence decreased slightly compared to the previous week. The overall picture shows falling incidences in most western German states and Berlin, with incidences still rising slightly in the other eastern German states and Bavaria.

The RKI estimates there’s been a total of 800,000 to 1.5 million people with Covid (who also have symptoms) in the past week alone in Germany.

Last week experts warned that they expected the Covid situation to get worse in the coming weeks as many schools in Germany return after the summer break.

READ ALSO: Germany’s summer Covid wave set to get worse

The Omicron sub-variant BA.5, which has dominated in Germany since mid-June, has almost completely displaced other variants. It accounts for 89 percent of samples in the past week, the RKI said.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach warned people against underestimating getting Covid again.

The SPD politician pointed out that it was very easy to become infected with BA.5 – even for those who were infected with a previous type.

He warned that many could become seriously ill or die, plus there’s the risk of picking up Long Covid.

“Therefore, we have to solve the problem not by constant infection, but by better vaccines,” Lauterbach said.

‘Call things as they are’

Lauterbach, meanwhile, defended himself against his choice of words when describing the possibility of a new dangerous Covid variant emerging in autumn. 

In an interview with Bild newspaper in April he said: “It is quite possible that we will get a highly contagious Omicron variant that is as deadly as Delta – that would be an absolute killer variant.”

He was slammed for his dramatic choice of words. 

This week Lauterbach said: “I use few vocabulary that is apocalyptic. But sometimes you have to call things as they are.”

If there were a virus that linked the contagion of the BA.5 variant with the severe course of a Delta variant, “that would be a killer variant”, he maintained.

But he stressed that he had “not said that such a variant is definitely coming, but that we have to be prepared for such a variant”.

READ ALSO: German Health Minister calls on under 60s to get next Covid jab