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German health experts slam too many ‘exceptions’ to Covid rules

Germany's Robert Koch Institute (RKI) health agency on Thursday called for stronger measures to bring down coronavirus infections, noting many people not doing enough to reduce social contacts.

German health experts slam too many 'exceptions' to Covid rules
People walking in Cologne on January 13th. Photo: DPA

“The measures that we are taking now – for me they are not a complete lockdown, there are still too many exceptions,” RKI head Lothar Wieler told a press conference in Berlin.

There is “total consensus” among statisticians that stricter measures would be needed to get “to a stage where the incidence rate is falling substantially and rapidly”, the RKI's Dirk Brockmann added.

As we reported, Wieler also urged people in Germany to “stay at home” and avoid travel in a bid to get the numbers down and over concerns about the Covid-19 variants spreading.

READ ALSO: 'Please stay at home': RKI boss issues urgent appeal to German residents

Germany has continued to see high infection rates despite being in some form of shutdown since the beginning of November.

The RKI on Thursday reported 25,164 new cases in 24 hours and a record 1,244 deaths, with many regions saying hospitals are struggling to cope with the influx of patients.

Bars, gyms, cultural and leisure centres were closed in early November, followed by non-essential shops and schools in December.

Authorities have also turned the screw on social gatherings, limiting contacts to two households and urging people to stay at home wherever possible.

But mobility has been significantly higher during the second shutdown than during the first round of restrictions in the spring, according to the RKI.

READ ALSO: Germany logs new record of Covid-19 deaths amid worries of 'pandemic fatigue'

“There is a lot of common sense, but there are also a lot of exceptions, especially when it comes to mobility. People are on the road a lot,” Brockmann said.

Scientists agree that “the rules that lead to fewer contacts simply have to be tightened” in order to meaningfully bring down the incidence rate, he said.

Wieler urged companies to allow more staff to work from home whenever possible.

Germany, with 83 million people, began vaccinating against Covid-19 in late December and on Thursday passed the milestone of one percent of the population receiving their first jab, according to the RKI.

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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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