What are Germany’s new coronavirus rules for classrooms and school winter holidays?

The winter holidays are to be brought forward and restrictions tightened in schools in Germany. Here are the main points.

What are Germany's new coronavirus rules for classrooms and school winter holidays?
Photo: DPA

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The German government and 16 states have agreed to extend the partial shutdown across Germany. As was the case in November, schools will remain open but there are some changes.

The government and states said that “in person teaching at schools continues to have the highest priority in these decisions. The right to education can best be guaranteed by learning and teaching face-to-face”.

What does this mean?

There are no plans for nationwide rules on smaller teaching groups, which Angela Merkel had called for recently.

Decisions on classes and teaching will be made locally, but extra restrictions have to happen if or when the situation worsens.

“Further measures for the organisation of lessons” are to be implemented “school-specifically” in the event of an incidence above 200 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants per week,” the government and states have decided.

So-called hybrid teaching (digital and face-to-face) is also not made compulsory in worsening scenarios, but only mentioned as an example of possible additional measures. Moreover, such measures are to be limited to pupils from the 8th grade onwards – with the exception of the final year classes.

What about face masks?

It was also agreed that masks would be compulsory in lessons from seventh grade onwards, also depending on the regional coronavirus figures.

The paper mentions “significantly more” than 50 new infections per 100,00 inhabitants as a deciding factor. However, most federal states have long since made masks compulsory in lessons, starting in year five.

In Bavaria students have to wear masks at primary schools. Only Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania did not have compulsory masks in school before this point.

Childcare and schools should remain open. An agreement was reached to make masks compulsory in lessons from the 7th grade onwards, depending on the regional corona figures. The paper mentions “significantly more” than 50 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants as a blurred line.

With a 7-day incidence of more than 200, more far-reaching measures such as hybrid or alternate teaching in the older age groups from year 8 (except for final year classes) are to be implemented “school-specific”, the paper states.

Pupils who test positive and their classmates should be immediately placed in a five-day quarantine. Anyone who then tests negative may end the quarantine.

IN DETAIL: Germany extends coronavirus shutdown and tightens restrictions

What about the Christmas holidays?

This year, Christmas holidays will start almost everywhere at the same time on December 19th. Even before the meeting, Bavaria, North Rhine-Westphalia, Lower Saxony, Saxony and Baden-Württemberg had announced that they would bring their holidays forward to 19 December.

In most of the other German states this date was set long before the pandemic as the start of the holidays. With the exception of Bremen and Thuringia, the holidays will now begin on this Saturday.

According to the decision taken on Wednesday, the two states reserve the right to “regulate the start of the holidays on an individual state basis”.

The measure is intended to reduce the number of contacts directly before the holidays and therfore the risk of infection within the family circle.

However, parents in states who are bring forward their holidays will now have to arrange for childcare for the additional days before Christmas Eve. Emergency care is under discussion, however.

What are the quarantine rules for students?

There should be uniform rules for students who are infected with coronavirus, and their classmates. Pupils who have tested positive should be sent home immediately to undertake a five-day quarantine. Their classmates  should also quarantine.

The days at the weekend count towards the quarantine. As further stated in the resolution paper of the federal government and states, the affected pupils are then to undergo a rapid test after five days of quarantine.

Those who are negative would be allowed back to school. Those who are positive should be tested again every three days until the test is negative.

According to the decision, teachers should not be included in this “cluster isolation” because of “the temporary and differently structured contact”. It remains to be seen whether there are enough rapid tests for such a procedure.

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Pandemic in Germany unlikely to end this year, says top virologist

High profile German virologist Christian Drosten believes Germany will see a severe spike in Covid infections after summer, and that the pandemic will not become endemic this year.

Pandemic in Germany unlikely to end this year, says top virologist

Drosten previously said that Germany would probably be able to declare the end of the pandemic this year.

But in an interview with Spiegel, Drosten said he had reevaluated his opinion. 

“When the Alpha variant came, it was very surprising for me. When Delta appeared I was sceptical at first, then with Omicron we had to reorient ourselves again. And since January there have already been new Omicron subtypes.

“So I would actually like to correct myself: I no longer believe that by the end of the year we will have the impression that the pandemic is over.”

READ ALSO: End is in sight for pandemic in Germany, says virologist 

Drosten also said that Germany will not see a largely Covid-free summer, which has been the case in previous years, and a further increase in infections in autumn. 

“We are actually already seeing an exponential increase in case numbers again,” Drosten said.

“The BA.5 variant (of Omicron) is simply very transmissible, and people are losing their transmission protection from the last vaccination at the same time.”

In other countries, he said, when the number of cases become high, hospitalisation and death rates also rise again. “Unfortunately, that will also be the case here,” said Drosten, but added: “Overall, however, far fewer people will become seriously ill and die than in 2021.”

Drosten said he expected many more infections from September.

“I hope that the school holidays will dampen the increase in cases somewhat. But from September, I fear we will have very high case numbers,” the head of the virology department at Berlin’s Charité hospital told Spiegel.

READ ALSO: German Health Minister lays out autumn Covid plan

Virologist Christian Drosten at a Covid press conference in 2021.

Virologist Christian Drosten at a Covid press conference in 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

If the government does not take any action, he predicted there would be a lot of sick leave across all industries. “That will become a real problem,” he said.

Drosten said he did not expect overcrowded intensive care units in Germany.

But the new BA.5 sub-variant, which is becoming dominant in Germany, may affect people more strongly. 

“The wheel is turning more towards disease again,” said Drosten. It is not true that a virus automatically becomes more and more harmless in the course of evolution. “That makes me even more worried about the autumn,” he said.

Drosten recommends wearing masks indoors during the colder months, saying it is “the least painful” measure.

If, in addition, “up to 40 million people could be immunised or given a booster vaccination” before winter, for example by urgently calling for company vaccinations, that would “really make a difference”, Drosten said.

In the long term, he said it’s inevitable that people will become infected with coronavirus.

He said the population immunity due to vaccinations and infections will at some point be so strong that the virus will become less important. “Then we will be in an endemic state,” said Drosten. In the worst case, however, this could take “several more winters”.

However, Drosten warned against people trying to deliberately infect themselves with Covid, saying getting the infection in summer doesn’t mean people will be protected in winter. 

Drosten himself said he has not yet contracted Covid-19.

“So far, I guess I’ve just been lucky,” he said. “I rarely put myself in risky situations, but I’m not overly cautious either.”

‘Pandemic depends on behaviour’

According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI)’s latest weekly report, more outbreaks are occurring in care homes, and the number of patients in intensive care units is slightly rising as infections go up. 

The institute said there had been a 23 percent increase in the 7-day incidence compared to the previous week. On Friday the 7-day incidence stood at 618.2 infections per 100,000 people. There were 108,190 infections within the latest 24 hour period and 90 deaths. 

“The further course of the pandemic depends not only on the occurrence of new virus variants and the uptake of vaccinations on offer, it also depends to a large extent on the behaviour of the population,” said the RKI.

According to the DIVI intensive care register, the number of Covid-19 patients in ICUs had increased to 810 on Thursday this week, from about 600 at the beginning of the month.

However, that number is still low compared to previous Covid peaks when thousands of people were in intensive care in Germany.