The eight rules Germany wants you to follow to reduce Covid-19 infections

The German government has published official advice on how residents can follow the new coronavirus rules and stay safe this winter. We take a look at what it means.

The eight rules Germany wants you to follow to reduce Covid-19 infections
Germany advises people to do exercise alone or in pairs, like these peopel walking in Saxony on December 1st. Photo: DPA

Germany extended its partial shutdown on Monday until at least December 20th as it continues to battle a high number of daily cases and coronavirus deaths.

Health authorities in Germany reported 487 coronavirus-related deaths to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) within 24 hours on Wednesday morning – the highest number since the beginning of the pandemic. It brings the total number of deaths registered in Germany to 17,123.

A total of 17,270 new Covid-19 infections were reported within 24 hours. This is about 1,400 fewer than the previous week, when 18,633 new cases were reported on Wednesday.

The German federal government has now published a list of rules and recommendations on how people can protect themselves and others during the colder months.

Here's a rundown:
Be careful in closed rooms – and ventilate

Due to the cold and wet weather, we spend most of the time indoors in autumn and winter. However, that means the risk of infection gets higher, because the virus is mainly transmitted by aerosols, i.e. by liquid particles that spread particularly well in closed rooms.

“For this reason, it is important not to have too many people in one room, depending on the size of the room,” says the German government. Furthermore, the room should be well ventilated, so open doors and windows regularly to let in fresh air.

Take protecting yourself and others seriously

Germany is urging people not to forget the basic rules, especially for people who have to come into contact with people indoors, for example at work.

They urge people to keep a 1.5 metres distance to others, wash hands regularly, wear a face mask, download the coronavirus app and air out rooms regularly.

“Be mindful and keep to the AHA rules: distance (at least 1.5 metres), hygiene, i.e. washing hands, everyday masks,” says the advice.

Particularly in the coming months with more people indoors, “airing is a simple and effective way of reducing the risk of infection,” says the government advice.

Chancellor Angela Merkel wearing a mask. Photo: DPA

Restrict private meetings as much as possible

During the winter months, private meetings indoors and outdoors with friends, relatives and acquaintances must be limited to your own household and one other household, but in any case to a maximum of five people. Children up to 14 are not part of this rule.

This was the regulation decided by the government and states, but some states have slightly different rules. In Berlin, for example, only children up to the age of 12 are exempt.

The government recommends that as a general rule you should stick to “a fixed additional household” for socialising.

In general private celebrations are not allowed during this time.

Contact rules will be eased slightly at Christmas and New Year: from December 23rd to January 1st at the latest, meetings with the “closest circle of family and friends” are allowed with a maximum of 10 people, regardless of the households they come from. Children up to 14 are excluded from this rule.

However, some states have different rules on this relaxation, such as Berlin which says only a maximum of five people can meet. 

Germany stopped short of issuing a ban on the sale of fireworks at New Year. But the government and states strongly recommend that “New Year's Eve fireworks be avoided”.

Refrain from social activities and public transport

In your free time you should avoid all areas where you might meet lots of people. You should also avoid any non-essential time indoors and trips on public transport that could be avoided.

Stick to distancing and mask rules when shopping

Whenever you go shopping, you must wear a mouth-nose covering in all federal states – even in front of stores and in car parks.

Make sure that there are not too many people in a shop, and comply with the maximum number of admissions to the store. If you have to stand in a queue, keep your distance.

“Also keep your distance in front of shelves or at cash desks,” says the government advice.

Do exercise alone or in pairs

Professional sporting events can only take place without spectators during the shutdown.

Recreational and amateur sports activities on and in all public and private sports facilities, swimming pools and fun pools have been suspended since November 2nd. Fitness centres and similar facilities are also closed.

The official rule is: restrict your sports activities to things you can do alone or in pairs. “Use the time for walks in the fresh air, this is good for body and soul,” adds the government advice.

Stay at home

If you have an infectious respiratory disease (such as a cold), call a doctor or schedule a video appointment and get a sick note. Do not go to the surgery.

Stay at home until the acute symptoms subside. The Robert Koch Institute advises you to isolate for at least five days.

“The doctor will discuss with you whether the symptoms require testing, examination or further treatment,” says the advice. The medical on-call service is available in Germany by calling 116 117.

This year it should be a small Christmas celebration. Photo: DPA

Avoid travel

In general, you should not travel and you should also avoid visiting relatives. Accommodation offers, such as hotels or holiday homes in Germany, are only provided for “necessary and expressly non-touristic purposes”, says the government.

If a trip cannot be avoided, the coronavirus rules of the state you are travelling to apply.

In particular, tourist trips abroad, including those during the ski season, should be avoided, stresses the advice.

However, there is some confusion over this recommendation because hotels in some states are allowing families to stay during the festive season.

Chancellor Angela Merkel reportedly slammed this move by the regional governments in Berlin, Hesse and some other states.

Merkel and states are due to meet again later this month (around December 15th) so we should get more clarity on travel during the festive season after that.

Useful link: Here you'll find the links to state websites for coronavirus rules in your area.

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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.