Groups of 10 and no fireworks ban: German states propose Christmas and New Year rules

Germany's 16 states have proposed special rules for the festive season. From calling on employers to offer company holidays to allowing groups of up to 10 people to meet, here are the draft proposals.

Groups of 10 and no fireworks ban: German states propose Christmas and New Year rules
Fireworks packaging on the street along with emergency services in Düsseldorf on January 1st 2020. Photo: DPA

The heads of Germany's states have been thrashing out their stance on how the country should tackle the next phase of the pandemic. The main question is: how much normality will be possible during the festive season?

The states will discuss their plans with Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday.

It comes after Merkel called for tougher measures last week but states dug their heels in and refused on the changes. Instead, a series of recommendations were made in an appeal to the public.

It's important that the federal government and states strike a common line this week to show that Germany can agree on how to deal with the pandemic at this tricky time of year.

Groups of 10 allowed at Christmas and New Year

The states propose that from December 23rd to January 1st, meetings with a maximum of 10 people will be possible, even if they come from different households. Children under 14 are excluded from this rule so wouldn't be included in the total number of people.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about proposals to extend Germany's partial lockdown

Self-isolate before celebrating

The heads of government are calling on people to carry out self-quarantine for as many days as possible before Christmas or meeting family and friends.

“This can be supported by possibly bringing forward the Christmas school holidays to December 19th 2020,” the draft decision states. The self-quarantine is intended to minimise the risk of coronavirus infections during the festivities.

Call for flexibility from employers

In the fight against high infection rates, the states also want to ask employers for support. Firms should consider whether workplaces could be closed either by company holidays or by a generous home office solution from December 23rd to January 1st.

Stricter contact rules in lead up to Christmas

The states have also agreed to tighten contact rules. From December 1st, according to the plan, private meetings would only be allowed between members of two households, with a maximum of five people. At the moment, the limit is 10. Children are not affected by this rule.

READ ALSO: What will Christmas 2020 be like in Germany?

More masks and measures in schools and universities

Under the proposals, masks should be compulsory in public indoor spaces and in busy places. However, the exact places affected still have to be defined.

The heads of states also want to see face masks worn in all workplaces. The exception is if a distance of 1.5 metres to other people can be maintained.

At schools in regions with significantly more than 50 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants within seven days, the states want to make masks compulsory from seventh grade and above. In “special infection hotspots”, there will be “further-reaching measures for teaching design”, such as hybrid teaching (a mix of digital and classroom), in older classes in addition to final-year classes.

Colleges and universities should essentially switch over to digital teaching.

A view of the large Christmas tree in Leipzig. Photo: DPA

No general ban on fireworks

The debate on a ban on fireworks on New Year's Eve has been particularly heated in recent days as state premiers struggle to reach a common line.

The SPD-led states had initially proposed banning fireworks in a bid to ease the pressure on emergency services and police, and avoid large groups on the streets.

The police union also previously called for a ban. However, some politicians have been pushing to keep the tradition, which sees Germans stock up on tons of fireworks and setting them off on public streets.

The states have, therefore, stopped short of calling for a general ban and instead want to ban fireworks in crowded public places and streets to avoid large group formations.

“The local authorities will determine the affected squares and streets,” the paper says. It is only “recommended” that New Year's Eve fireworks are banned at the turn of the year. A concrete ban on sales is not planned.

READ ALSO: Police and politicians in Germany call for ban on fireworks on New Year's Eve

Partial lockdown extended across Germany

According to the proposal by the states, the current partial lockdown is to be extended until December 20th.

Bars, restaurants, cafes, hotels, leisure and cultural facilities have all been closed since November 2nd, although takeaway food and drink can be sold. Shops and schools have been allowed to stay open with restrictions.

If the incidence falls to “significantly” below 50 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants within seven days and if further conditions are met in a region, states should be given the opportunity to loosen the  measures.

Are these measures set in stone?

No. On Tuesday, the head of the Chancellery, Helge Braun (of the Christian Democrats) was expected to meet with the heads of states. Some changes could be made before the consultations with Merkel on Wednesday. However, the states are said to be on the same page.

On Wednesday the final decision is expected to be thrashed out and the public will be informed.

On Tuesday morning, the health authorities reported slightly fewer new coronavirus infections to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) compared to the previous week's level. Within 24 hours 13,554 new cases were registered. Last Tuesday the number was 14,419.

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Munich sees sharp rise in Covid cases after Oktoberfest

Since the start of Germany’s Oktoberfest, the incidence of Covid infections in Munich has risen sharply. Though a connection with the festival can’t yet be proven, it seems likely.

Munich sees sharp rise in Covid cases after Oktoberfest

Two weeks after the start of Oktoberfest, the Covid numbers in Munich have more than tripled.

On Sunday, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported an incidence of 768.7 for the city of Munich, though updated figures for the end of the festival are not expected until later in the week. Usually, on weekends and public holidays, there is a delay in reports.

In the entire state of Bavaria, the incidence value on Sunday was 692.5.

According to Munich’s public health officer, Beatrix Zurek, bed occupancy in Munich hospitals has also increased. Two weeks ago, 200 beds in Munich were occupied by Covid patients, whereas there are now around 350.

Though a relationship between the sharp rise in infections with Oktoberfest, which ended on Monday, can’t be proven at the moment, it seems very likely, according to experts. A significant increase in Covid incidences has also been shown at other public festivals – about one and a half weeks after the start. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s famed Oktoberfest opens after two-year pandemic hiatus

After a two-year break due to the pandemic, around 5.7 million visitors came to this year’s Wiesn according to the festival management – around 600,000 fewer than at the last Oktoberfest before the pandemic in 2019, when there were 6.3 million.

Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) took to Twitter to comment on the rise in incidence in Munich during the Oktoberfest. “This would not have been necessary if self-tests had been taken before admission,” he said.

“Compared to the price of a measure of beer, €2-3 (for tests) wouldn’t have mattered,” he said.

Even before the start of the Wiesn, he had spoken out in favour of people taking voluntary self-tests. Lauterbach stressed that now is the time for special measures against Covid.

“The development shows what will happen if the states wait too long with the mask obligation in indoor areas,” he added.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Germany’s new Covid-19 rules from October

In neighbouring counties, where many Oktoberfest visitors came from, the number of Covid cases has also risen noticeably.  Beatrix Zurek said that it is unclear, however, how much of a role Oktoberfest played in these figures, as people are currently much more active socially overall, with concerts and other events also taking place throughout the state.

Christoph Spinner, an infections specialist at Munich’s Klinikum, has urged people not to be alarmed by the rising numbers.

“We had expected rising incidences here. We knew that there could be a doubling, tripling, even quadrupling,” he said.

He said that this is no cause for concern, as many people have been vaccinated or have also recovered from previous Covid infections, so any new infections are therefore usually mild.

The virologist advises people over 60 or with pre-existing conditions to get a second booster vaccination, but otherwise said people shouldn’t be alarmed by the rising incidences.