EXPLAINED: What can we expect from Germany’s meeting on holiday rules?

Chancellor Angela Merkel is meeting with state leaders on Wednesday to reach a final decision on how Germany will deal with the coronavirus situation in December and January. Here's what we can expect.

EXPLAINED: What can we expect from Germany's meeting on holiday rules?
Christmas lights in Bonn. Photo: DPA

This week, Germany's 16 state leaders have been thrashing out proposals on how the country can get the coronavirus situation under control, while allowing citizens to enjoy the festive season.

On Wednesday the federal government represented by Chancellor Merkel, of the Christian Democrats (CDU) will meet with the state leaders and they will decide on the final plan.

It comes as Germany logged a record number of Covid-19 deaths in one day. Health authorities reported 410 new coronavirus-related deaths within 24 hours, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) said on Tuesday, the highest number since the start of the pandemic.

What's in store?

Although there have been positive signs, the pandemic situation is not improving hugely in Germany. So residents are now facing further weeks of a partial lockdown. However, authorities want to allow some relaxation during the Christmas period.

Before then, contact restrictions and other measures will be tightened to reduce the risk of infection during the holidays as much as possible.

However, some things remain up in the air. For example it's unclear whether the relaxations will also apply on New Year's Eve and whether restaurants and hotels will be allowed to reopen over the holidays and at the turn of the year.

In a bid to try and reach an agreement after the previous week's stalled talks, the states came up with their own proposals. The federal government has supplemented the proposals.

They will be discussed and a final decision reached today. Angela Merkel was due to address the Bundestag on Thursday morning.

Here's what we can expect:

PARTIAL LOCKDOWN EXTENDED: The closure of pubs, restaurants, cultural and leisure facilities is to be extended until at least December 20th, under the plans largely agreed by both the states and federal government.

The government will call on residents to avoid all unnecessary social contact and travel.

Shops will remain open – but the mask requirement will now also apply in front of shops and in car parks. States will be allowed to discuss loosening measures if the incidence is “significantly” below 50 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants within seven days and if other conditions are met.

CONTACT RESTRICTIONS: Contact restrictions are to be tightened in the run up to the holidays and after the festive period. Private meetings with friends, relatives and acquaintances are to be restricted to your own household and one other household, with a maximum of five people. Children under 14 will be excluded from the rule and not make up the total number of people.

CONTACT RULES RELAXED FOR CHRISTMAS AND NEW YEAR: From December 23rd to January 1st, meetings of a household with members of the family or people from outside the household (who can come from different households) are to be made possible up to a maximum of ten persons. Children up to 14 years of age are not included here either.

People are strongly urged to pre-quarantine before meeting up with friends and family to avoid the risk of passing on the virus.

There could be some movement on the dates, for example a shorter period of the relaxed rules. Bavarian state premier Markus Söder, for example, does not want to allow eased rules in the new year period.

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

NO BAN ON FIREWORKS: New Year's Eve fireworks in busy squares and streets will not be allowed in a bid to avoid large groups forming, the proposals say. Local authorities should identify the affected squares and streets.

In principle, it is “recommended” that people refrain from using fireworks at the turn of the year. So it doesn't look like there will be a general ban on sales or lighting of fireworks, which was discussed initially.

BUSINESS HOLIDAYS: Employers should check whether business premises can be closed through company holidays or generous home office solutions from December 23rd to January 1st to help people to cut their contacts.

SCHOOLS AND KITAS: Childcare facilities and schools should remain open during the partial shutdown. In regions with significantly more than 50 new infections per 100,000 residents in seven days (so-called hotspots), however, compulsory masks will also apply in classrooms from seventh grade onwards. Primary school pupils, fifth and sixth graders should also wear a mask.

Winter holidays should be brought forward to December 19th nationwide in a bid to help reduce contacts in the lead up to Christmas.

PROTECTION OF RISK GROUPS AND RAPID TESTS: The protection of risk groups is to be improved under the proposals. For people in need of care, such as those in old people's homes, a total of 30 rapid tests per month are to be made available to them from December 1st. Depending on availability, this entitlement will be gradually increased.

AID FOR BUSINESSES: The November assistance to companies, institutions and the self-employed affected by the partial lockdown will continue in December. The federal government plans to provide financial aid to affected companies with a reported €17 billion package.

Further ideas put forward by the federal government to be discussed:

STRICTER RULES IN SHOPS: According to the proposals, small and medium-sized shops with a sales area of up to 800 square metres will in future be allowed to have a maximum of one person per 10 square metres.

In larger shops with a total sales area of 801 square metres or more, such as department stores, the following is planned: up to 800 square metres, there should be no more than one person per 10 square metres – in bigger areas, no more than one person per 20 square metres.

People in Germany will also be encouraged to do their Christmas shopping during the week if possible when it is not as busy.

FEWER SEATS ON TRAINS: In order to make travel safer, the number of occupied seats in trains is to be reduced significantly. For the winter months, people should only be allowed to book window seats. At the same time, however, the capacity of the trains should be increased with extra carriages to allow for more space.

Mask checks on trains are also set to be stepped up to ensure compliance.

MORE TESTS: The federal government wants to offer more generous testing facilities for people with cold symptoms before Christmas. The aim is to make encounters at Christmas time as safe as possible.

This month Germany changed its testing strategy, urging people with cold symptoms to self-isolate instead of getting a Covid-19 test. That's because health services and labs are struggling to cope with the demand for tests.  

READ ALSO: What is Germany's new coronavirus test strategy for winter?

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‘People liked the silence’: How Berlin’s club scene is struggling after lockdowns

Berlin's clubs are suffering from staff shortages, a lack of guests... and neighbours who've grown used to the silence, representatives for the scene say.

'People liked the silence': How Berlin's club scene is struggling after lockdowns

Some operators from Berlin’s club scene are bracing themselves for a difficult autumn. For months now, people have been allowed to dance again and life has returned to normal in the dark corners of Berlin’s famous nightlife scene.

But the clubs have far from recovered from the pandemic. They face staff shortages, rising prices and the prospect of a return to Covid restrictions in the autumn.

“We go into the autumn with huge fear, because the omens are totally unfavorable,” said association head Pamela Schobeß.

Spring and summer went anything but smoothly, she said. “There has been an oversupply of events. People aren’t going out as much, and some are still afraid to move around indoors.”

Money is also an issue. “A lot of people are afraid of rising energy prices.”

The industry lost workers during the pandemic and it’s hard to convince them to come back with the outlook for the autumn looking so gloomy, Schobeß says.

Her colleague Robin Schellenberg tells a similar story. People have switched to various other jobs and would even rather work on a supermarket checkout, which may have been considered less sexy in the past. Now, he says, some have learned to love not having to work nights.


Schellenberg runs the Klunkerkranich, a small club on a parking garage deck in Neukölln. Because a number of things have become more expensive, they have also had to increase their admission prices.

His impression is that people are going out less often and are deciding more spontaneously. In addition, people in the neighborhood are now more sensitive to noise. “Many people found the silence very enticing,” he said.

Some in the industry wonder what will happen next. Will club admission have to become much more expensive? Will that exclude people who can no longer afford it? And what happens if Covid infection numbers rise sharply?

If masks become mandatory indoors in October, Schobeß believes that would be bad for the clubs. “Even if we don’t get shut down by the state, we’ll actually have to close down independently ourselves,” she reckons.

Masks take all the joy out of the experience, she says. People have drinks in their hands and are “jumping around and dancing” and then security guards have to tell them “please put your mask on.”

The federal government is considering whether states should be able to make masks mandatory indoors starting in October. Exceptions should be possible, such as at cultural and sporting events, for people who have been tested, recently vaccinated and recently recovered.

In the event that Covid numbers soar, the states could then be allowed to tighten the rules and eliminate all exemptions.

READ ALSO: German court declares techno to be music