What you need to know about Germany’s quarantine and test changes in December

This month there are changes to the way that testing and home quarantines will take place in Germany. Here's an overview.

What you need to know about Germany's quarantine and test changes in December
Employees at the private test centre at Berlin's BER Airport. Photo: DPA

New regulations from the Health Ministry, due to come into force on Wednesday, provide for the increased usage of rapid antigen coronavirus tests in Germany – for example in the care sector and in schools

For travellers coming from risk areas abroad, however, coronavirus tests will soon no longer be free of charge.

Here's what's changing this month in Germany under the new rules.

Reduced quarantine period

Due to the increased availability of more rapid antigen tests across Germany, the government and states have agreed to allow a “test-based reduction of the quarantine period”.

On December 1st the quarantine period for those who've come into contact with coronavirus-infected people was reduced from 14 to 10 days. This shortened period can only take place if a negative test result is presented.

“A shorter quarantine period relieves the burden on the citizens concerned and the health authorities and mitigates the economic consequences of quarantine orders for the individual and for the national economy,” said the government and states.

IN DETAIL: Germany extends coronavirus shutdown and tightens restrictions

The cost of the test is covered by health insurance. A doctor or the public health department will determine whether you are a contact person.

A first-degree contact person is someone who has had contact with a person who has tested positive for Covid-19 for more than 15 minutes, with a distance of less than 1.5 metres.

If you test positive for Covid-19, you should continue the quarantine and your doctor or health provider will instruct you on the next steps.

Photo: DPA

No more free tests for people returning from risk zones

At the moment when people come from a high risk area abroad they have the option of being tested for coronavirus free of charge at the earliest five days into the required 10-day mandatory quarantine.

However, this offer will expire soon: from December 16th onward tests will no longer be free of charge for those arriving in Germany from risk zones, DPA learned from Health Ministry circles.

Additionally, people who make an “avoidable trip” to risk areas will no longer receive compensation for loss of earnings during the quarantine period.

There are some exceptions to this rule, such as deaths or family emergencies.

The Robert Koch Institute publishes a list of countries considered risk areas.

READ ALSO: Germany to scrap free coronavirus tests after travel


Rapid tests for risk groups

Nursing homes, hospitals and doctors' surgeries should be able to use more rapid antigen tests – on patients, residents, staff or visitors.

Up to 30 tests per month per resident or patient in homes and hospitals will be possible instead of the 20 tests currently used.

Facilities must create test plans for this strategy. The health authority then determines how many tests can be purchased and financed by health insurance companies.

In outpatient care, 15 instead of 10 quick tests per month and patient should be possible. Rapid tests will now also be possible in emergency services and day clinics.

Tests in schools

The Health Ministry explained that rapid tests – after a case of infection – should also be used in schools.

According to the government and states, the respective group, i.e. usually the class, is to be quarantined for five days after a case has occurred in a class. Rapid tests can be performed on day five. Children who have tested negative can then return to school.

READ ALSO: What are Germany's new coronavirus rules for classrooms and school holidays?

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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.