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Everything that changes in Germany in 2021

There are quite a few new laws coming into force at the start of next year, and many of them promise savings for the average household. We look at the key changes you should know about.

Everything that changes in Germany in 2021
Cologne at New Year 2020. Photo: DPA

Child benefits are going up

If you have children under the age of 25, we have some good news for you – monthly Kindergeld payments (child benefits) are going up by €15 per child starting in January.

In the future, parents will receive €219 for their first two children, €225 for their third child and €250 for every subsequent child.

Perfect timing for all those corona pregnancies… 

Rise in minimum wage

More good news, this time for people working in low-paying industries such as the gastronomy sector. The minimum wage will increase by €0.15 from €9.35 to €9.50 per hour.

And that is just the beginning, the Mindestlohn (as it is called in German) is going to rise in stages across the year until it reaches €10.45 by the beginning of 2022.

Another wage increase involves those doing training programmes. From the beginning of the year they’ll receive a minimum of €550.

Meanwhile, for those not currently in employment, jobless payments will go up slightly to €446 a month.

Photo: DPA

End of the Soli

More money saving good news: the Solidaritätszuschlag, a tax that was introduced after reunification to help rebuild the east, will be wound up for the majority of taxpayers.

The low tax level for paying the Soli, as it is normally called, will be raised to such an extent that parents of two children or more will only pay it if they earn a combined €151,000. Singles meanwhile will have to earn over €61,700 to still face Soli payments.

In other words, around 90 percent of the employed will no longer pay the tax.

READ ALSO: Taxpayers in Germany to receive boost as 'solidarity tax' almost entirely abolished

Rise in public broadcaster fee

The so-called Rundfunkbeitrag is to go up by 86 cents to a monthly payment of €18.36. The public broadcasters, which include TV channels ARD and ZDF, have a €1.5 billion hole in their budget. The budget is funded almost entirely through a compulsory payment that every household makes.

This increase is supposed to come into effect on January 1st, but the state parliament in Saxony-Anhalt has so far refused to back it, something that is leading to serious friction inside Angela Merkel's CDU party.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to pay Germany's TV tax or (legally) avoid it

Vehicle costs to go up

Photo: DPA

Here's a change that could mean more expenses for people buying new cars. An emissions tax hike will be introduced on January 1st which will double vehicle tax on new cars that have a C02 emission level of more than 195 grams per kilometre.

On the other hand, cars that are super efficient and emit below 95 grams of CO2 per kilometre will pay less tax in future. So there is a clear incentive there to buy a more climate friendly car.

Fuel prices are going to go up, too.

A C02 trading scheme that was agreed upon in 2019 will come into force, meaning petrol suppliers will have to buy emissions certificates.

The cost is sure to be passed on to the consumer, with car owners paying an estimated seven cent per litre extra for petrol and eight cents more for diesel at the tank.

Basic pension

Low earning pensioners have a nice surprise in store for them on January 1st, 2021. The basic pension for low earners will come into force.

The bill, which caused years of debate inside two coalition governments, will apply to all those who worked for at least 33 years but did not earn enough to gain a satisfactory pension in their old age.

The basic pension has been criticised for the complication involved in calculating it.

SEE ALSO: Everything that changes in Germany in December 2020

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Should Germany shorten Covid vaccine intervals to combat Delta?

A single vaccine dose has been shown to be largely ineffective against the Delta variant of Covid-19 - so German health experts are considering whether a shorter gap between the first and second dose is needed.

Should Germany shorten Covid vaccine intervals to combat Delta?
A sign directs people to the vaccination centre in Berlin's now-defunct Tegel Airport. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Soeren Stache

With the the proportion of Delta variant Covid cases rising in Germany, experts are currently mulling over a new strategy to combat it: shortening the intervals between the first and second dose of the vaccine.

The new approach is being considered in light of the fact that vaccinated people are likely to be protected highly infectious variant – but only if they have had all necessary doses of the vaccine. 

READ ALSO: Share of Delta variant Covid cases in Germany almost doubles in a week

“The question is not a trivial one,” Thomas Mertens, the head of the Standing Vaccination Commission (STIKO), told DPA.

According to the Ulm-based virologist, there are various pros and cons to shortening the gaps between doses.

“We are currently trying to secure the necessary evidence,” he added.

So far, Stiko has been recommending longer intervals between the two vaccinations than the intervals stipulated by regulators when the vaccines were approved. 

There are good reasons for this: with AstraZeneca, for example, evidence suggests that the longer you wait between vaccines, the better immunity you have.

With limited doses of vaccines available – and ongoing supply issues – there is also an argument for providing as many people as possible with the first dose, so that as many people as possible are at least partly protected against the virus.

READ ALSO: ‘Vaccinate quickly’: German states seeing surge in Delta variant Covid cases

For AstraZeneca, the previous advice from the panel of experts at Stiko is to allow twelve weeks to elapse between the first and second dose. For the mRNA vaccines – Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna – the recommended interval is six weeks.

According to the pharmaceutical regulators, however, a faster course would be possible: two BioNTech doses three weeks apart, with Moderna and AstraZeneca given four weeks apart.

In the case of the AstraZeneca vector vaccine, according to the Health Ministry, those wishing to be vaccinated are free to agree the interval individually with doctors within the permitted period of four to twelve weeks.

“A certain distance improves the effectiveness of the vaccine”

Helge Braun (CDU), Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff, told the Morgenmagazin on Thursday that the government’s main challenge was to offer all over-12s at the least one dose of the vaccine by the end of summer.

READ ALSO: ‘This can be a good summer’: Half of Germans vaccinated at least once against Covid

Regarding the timing of the second dose, the main concern should be effectiveness, he said.

“We just know that a certain distance improves the effectiveness of the vaccination,” he told reporters. 

When pressed on whether shortening the intervals between doses was the advice of the hour, Braun said it wasn’t.

On Twitter, German immunologist Carsten Watzl pointed out that, while cases of Delta were rising as a proportion of infections due to falling infection rates overall, the actual number of infections with Delta was still stable – and may even be declining. 

This means that the longer, 12-week interval for AstraZeneca vaccinations could be still be used as long as people were fully vaccinated by autumn, he said. 

The virologist Christian Drosten has been pointing out for a long time that the first jab is not particularly effective against Delta. 

This is also the view of Watzl, who would like to see the majority of people fully protected in time for a potential fourth wave of the virus. 

“The second vaccination is urgently needed in order to be able to properly ward off the mutations,” he said in a recent interview with the German Press Agency.

“Shortening the current vaccination intervals, especially of BioNTech, of course makes sense in order to achieve complete inoculation as quickly as possible,” said the chief executive of the National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians, Andreas Gassen, on Wednesday.

“The maximum vaccine interval for BioNTech is only justified by the lack of vaccines.”

In Germany, increased shares of the Delta variant, first discovered in India, are now being recorded.

However, the number of cases caused by the mutation has only increased relatively slightly so far, while the trend for infections caused by the still dominant Alpha variant is declining more sharply.

In the future, it is expected that Delta will overtake Alpha as the dominant variant of Covid-19 in Germany.