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Schools, contact rules and travel: What you need to know about Berlin’s new Covid-19 restrictions

From pupils returning to school to tighter contact rules with an exception for single parents, here's what to keep in mind on Berlin's new Covid rules.

Schools, contact rules and travel: What you need to know about Berlin's new Covid-19 restrictions
A police van at Brandenburg Gate on the morning of January 7th. Photo: PDA

Germany is extending and tightening measures to slow the spread of Covid-19. Chancellor Angela Merkel and state leaders decided on tougher contact restrictions and a movement restriction rule for hard-hit areas as they extended the lockdown until January 31st.

However, plenty state differences are already emerging. Here's a look at what we can expect in Berlin.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: These are Germany's new tougher lockdown rules

Schools to open for many pupils in January

Merkel and state leaders agreed that schools and daycare centres (Kitas) would remain closed until the end of January, but said the aim was to reopen them as soon as possible education is a priority.

However, some regions are reopening classrooms earlier, including the capital.

The Berlin Senate agreed on a timetable for the gradual reopening of schools from January 11th.

From this date, year groups currently preparing for qualifications – such as Abitur, MSA or vocational school-leaving certificate – will be taught in reduced class sizes, said mayor Michael Müller.

Primary school pupils in grades one to three will return to the classroom part-time from January 18th.

The aim is to ensure that each pupil has at least three hours of face-to-face teaching per day, said Klaus Lederer,  Senator for Cultural Affairs (Left party).

Fourth to sixth graders will return part-time from January 25th. Until then they will receive classes online.

All other classes can expect alternating lessons with periods at school and at home from February 8th. The winter holidays in the first week of February will remain in place.

For those attending school, there is obligation to wear a face mask from fifth grade onwards during lessons.

Daycare centres will remain closed for the time being but will offer emergency care.

New contact rules – exception for single parents

Contact restrictions to combat the pandemic are being tightened across Germany, including in Berlin.

From January 11th, private gatherings will only be permitted among members of your own household and with a maximum of one other person not living in the household.

Up to this point, meetings between two households with up to five people were allowed, and children were excluded from the rule.

Children are no longer exempt from the contact rules. In Berlin there's this exception: If a person is a single parent, their children (under 12) are not counted in the rule.

It means a single parent could bring their child or children (under 14) to meet another household.

'Stay at home'

Berlin mayor Müller (SPD) made an urgent appeal to Berliners while announcing the new rules. “We must do everything we can to avoid contact,” he said on Wednesday.

“I see the situation on the streets with concern. In March and April we experienced complete silence. People took the stay home principle seriously. Now we have a lot of life in the city despite the restrictions,” said Müller.

“That's why it's crucial to stay home and avoid contacts – like in March and April, when we were successful with that.”

Müller told Berliners to brace themselves for the restrictions.

“These are three tough weeks ahead,” Müller said after the Senate meeting.

15 km movement restriction rule possible

The federal and state governments agreed that in areas that clock up more than 200 new Covid-19 infection per 100,000 residents, residents will face movement restrictions.

Residents will not be able to travel more than 15 km from their place of residence – their city or town. The aim is to stop people from travelling or going on day trips.

This measure was discussed at length in Berlin.

Berlin is to be treated as a whole (rather than carved up into districts). However, the city's seven day incidence rate is well below the 200 mark (around 130) so it currently would not be affected by the restriction.

So what happens if it rises above this limit?

Officials are to discuss if the rule will be brought in. Berlin will liaise with neighbouring state Brandenburg on how to deal with the situation.

Currently Potsdam in Brandenburg has a very high incidence of 228.5.

People have been urged not to go on day trips at all even when the rule is not in place.

READ ALSO: Do Germany's new lockdown restrictions go far enough?

Driving schools closed

Under the new rules, driving schools and services must be closed until at least January 31st.

Canteens to close

Work canteens also have to close seating areas. However, they can offer takeaway food.

Intensive care capacities overloaded

It came as Berlin hospitals continued to struggle. Müller said the situation at the Charité Hospital was very serious.

The capacity of available beds for the treatment of Covid-19 patients will be “exhausted in the next few days” partly because there are not enough specialist staff. “With this, one is now reaching limits,” he said.

Effects of Christmas and New Year

Culture Senator Lederer reminded the public that the effects of the holidays would not be known until around January 16th.

Lederer also slammed employers for not offering their staff the chance to work from home. 

The government and states have “strongly encouraged” employers across Germany to make this option available.

Too many people who don't work in key areas, such as hospitals or in refuse collection, still travel to work every day, he said.

Lederer added that it would be a tough time but he said he hoped the situation would have improved by Easter.

The Senate will discuss measures again on January 19th.

Please be aware that the situation can change rapidly. Check your local government site for more details.

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COVID-19 RULES

Bavaria pushes for stricter Covid regulations in autumn

Health ministers across Germany's 16 states are debating the government's new Covid plan - and politicians in Bavaria say they want more clarity.

Bavaria pushes for stricter Covid regulations in autumn

On Tuesday, federal and state health ministers planned to discuss the Covid protection proposals for autumn and winter presented last week by Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) and Justice Minister Marco Buschmann (FDP).

However, some states and politicians are not satisfied with the plans. 

Under the proposals, masks will remain mandatory in air and long-distance transport, as well as clinics, nationwide. But federal states will be able to choose themselves whether to introduce further measures like mandatory masks on public and regional transport.

States will also have the power to take tougher Covid measures if the situation calls for it, such as mandatory masks indoors, but lockdowns and school closures have been ruled out. 

READ ALSO Masks and no lockdowns: Germany’s new Covid plan from autumn to Easter

The draft law states that there can be exceptions from wearing masks in indoor spaces, such as restaurants, for recently Covid-vaccinated or recovered people. 

But Bavaria’s health minister Klaus Holetschek (CSU) told DPA that these planned exemptions were not justified because vaccinated and recovered people can still transmit infections. “There are clear gaps in the current draft law,” said the CSU politician.

Dominik Spitzer, health policy spokesman for the FDP parliamentary group in the Bavarian state parliament, also questioned this exception, saying the rules “simply made no sense”.

“With the current virus variant, that would be impossible to convey, since even vaccinated people can continue to carry the virus,” the FDP politician told Bavarian broadcaster BR24. 

The coalition government’s graduated plan under the new Infection Protection Act, is set to be in force from October 1st until April 7th next year. 

The powers for the states are a first step, “but they do not go far enough for us”, Holetschek added, while calling for some points to be tightened up. “We need strong guidelines for autumn and winter.”

Holetschek said the government needed to tighten up the criteria with which states can adopt and enforce more effective measures to protect against the spread of Covid-19.

READ ALSO: Could Germany see a ‘patchwork’ of Covid rules?

Meanwhile, CDU health politician Erwin Rüddel said Germany was on the “wrong track” and the country should find “a completely different approach” to Covid policy than it has so far.

He accused the coalition government of being in “panic mode” and said he doubted the Bundestag would pass the proposals.

“I believe, there will be significant changes (to the draft)”, he said.

But the chairperson of the doctors’ association Marburger Bund, Susanne Johna, backed the plans.

“The proposal for the new Infection Protection Act gives the states sufficient possibilities to react adequately to the infection situation,” Johna told the Rheinische Post on Tuesday.

“The states can take regionally adapted measures to protect people if the need arises. I can’t understand why this concept is being called into question right away.”

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