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HEALTH

‘Now is not the time for easing Covid-19 restrictions’, warns Bavarian premier

Germany's coronavirus infection rate is continuing to decline. But high-profile politician Markus Söder has warned against reopening public life too early.

'Now is not the time for easing Covid-19 restrictions', warns Bavarian premier
Bavarian state leader Markus Söder on Monday. Photo: DPA

Chancellor Angela Merkel is to meet with the leaders of Germany's 16 states next week – most likely on February 10th – to discuss what happens next in the country's shutdown.

The current measures, which were tightened last month, are due to expire on February 14th.

But Bavarian state premier Markus Söder, who is a possible future chancellor candidate after Merkel steps down, warned against opening up public life again quickly – and against states going their own way with different regulations.

Mistakes must be avoided, he said, adding: “Many lives are still at stake.”

On Monday 5,608 new Covid-19 infections in 24 hours were reported to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) in Germany.

That is 1,121 fewer reports than a week ago, when there were 6,729 cases. There were 175 new deaths related to the virus during this time period.

The total number of people who have died from or with the virus has now risen to 57,120.

Since not all health offices transmit data at the weekend, the RKI's figures are usually lower on Monday than on other days – plus no figures were transmitted from Saxony-Anhalt.

The nationwide seven-day incidence is currently 91 Covid-19 infections per 100,000 inhabitants. The aim is to get this number down to under 50.

READ ALSO: Analysis – At what point could Germany begin easing Covid restrictions?

'Wait to ease restrictions until time is right'

The current developments will be examined at the next conference between Merkel and state leaders, Christian Social Union (CSU) leader Söder told party members in Munich.

However, Söder added: “Anyone who expects that after that the big openings can take place across the board – that is not responsible from my point of view at the moment.”

Söder urged patience – particularly because the British viral mutation is being increasingly detected in Germany.

“And if there is a hasty easing now, then we are actually threatened with a serious setback,” he warned. If you open at a seven-day incidence of 90, you will be back at 150 in no time, he said.

“Now is not the time to talk about big relaxations – but rather to be thorough, longer, consistent,” he said.

“Things will really be opened up more widely and broadly when the time is right. And the time is ripe for it when the incidence rates are correspondingly low,” said Söder.

READ ALSO: Is this Germany's roadmap to head out of Covid-19 lockdown?

Söder also said although the aim is to get down to 50 new infections per 100,000 residents in seven days, it doesn't mean that everything will open up at that point.

He said last year Bavaria only relaxed its measures considerably when the incidence was below 10.

Söder also called for rules that are as uniform as possible throughout Germany. “There needs to be equal, fair and understandable rules for everyone,” he said.

There shouldn't be an “endless patchwork quilt” across Germany.

And when relaxing restrictions, schools and daycare centres (Kitas) would have priority – with high precautionary measures such as tests.

Söder also weighed in on the vaccination debate, calling for Germany to produce as much vaccines as possible.

READ ALSO: How can Germany speed up its vaccination campaign?

The pandemic is an extraordinary emergency situation, he said, and no one should forget that vaccinations are extremely important for the economy as well as for health reasons.

“Vaccination saves lives, vaccination creates freedom, and vaccination strengthens the economic restart. And that is why all capacities must be used,” Söder said.

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COVID-19 RULES

EXPLAINED: The Covid rules in place across German states

Many Covid restrictions have been dropped in Germany, but some rules remain in place. And as infections increase again, it's important to be aware of what you should do if you get Covid.

EXPLAINED: The Covid rules in place across German states

Germany has relaxed or changed many Covid restrictions in recent months. However, with Covid infections rocketing again, people are reminding themselves of what rules remain in place, and what they have to do if they get a positive test.

Here’s a quick roundup of what you should know. 

Face masks

Covid masks have to be worn when travelling on public transport, including planes departing to and from Germany. 

They also have to be worn in places where there are more vulnerable people, such as care homes, hospitals and doctor offices. 

Masks are not mandatory anymore in shops (including supermarkets) and restaurants, but individual businesses can enforce the rule so watch out for signs on the door. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s current Covid mask rules

FFP2 masks have become the standard in Germany, but in some cases other medical masks are sufficient.

There are no longer any entry rules to public venues such as the 3G or 2G rule, meaning that people had to show proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative test. 

However, they could return in autumn if the infection protection laws are adapted, and if the Covid situation gets worse.

Mandatory isolation 

The rules on isolation differ from state to state, but there is one general requirement: those who test positive for Covid have to go into isolation at home and avoid all contact with people outside the household. The isolation period lasts at least five days or a maximum of 10 days.

If you get a positive result at home, you should go to a test centre and undergo a rapid antigen test. If it is positive, the quarantine obligation kicks in. If it is negative, you have to get a PCR test.

If you have Covid symptoms, you should contact your doctor, local health authorities or the non-emergency medical on-call service on 116 117. They can advise or whether you should get a PCR test. 

Across German states, the isolation period lasts 10 days, but – as we mentioned above – there are differences on how it can end earlier. 

In Berlin, for instance, it can be shortened from the fifth day with a negative test if you have been symptom free for 48 hours. If this isn’t the case, the isolation is extended until you have been symptom-free for 48 hours and tested negative. But you can leave without a negative test after 10 days. 

A positive Covid test.

A positive Covid test. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sebastian Gollnow

Anyone who tests positive for Covid using a rapid test at a testing centre can have a free PCR test to confirm whether they have Covid-19. If the PCR test is negative, there is no obligation to go into quarantine.

In Bavaria, the isolation period is five days after the first positive test. For isolation to end on day five you must be symptom free for at least 48 hours. Otherwise, isolation is extended for 48 hours at a time until the maximum of 10 days. 

A test-to-release is not needed to end the isolation, unless the person works in a medical setting. 

READ ALSO: Germany sets out new Covid isolation rules

After isolation, Bavaria recommends that you wear an FFP2 mask in public places indoors and reduce contact for an extra five days. 

The state of Hesse has a similar system to Bavaria where a test is not needed to end the isolation early (unless the person works in a medical setting).

In North Rhine-Westphalia and Hamburg, residents can end their Covid isolation on the fifth day if they get a negative test (carried out at a testing centre). Otherwise the isolation period continues until the 10th day, or until they get a negative test.

Close contacts of people infected with Covid (including household contacts) no longer have to quarantine in Germany, but they are advised to get tested regularly and monitor for symptoms, as well as reduce contacts for five days. 

As ever, check with your local authority for the detailed rules.

Travel

Germany recently provisionally dropped almost all of its Covid travel restrictions, making it much easier to enter the country. 

The changes mean that entry into Germany is now allowed for all travel purposes, including tourism. The move makes travel easier – and cheaper – for people coming from non-EU countries, particularly families who may have needed multiple Covid tests for children. 

People also no longer have to show proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative test against Covid before coming to Germany – the so-called 3G rule. 

However, if a country is classed as a ‘virus variant’ region, tougher rules are brought in. 

It is likely that travel rules could be reinstated again after summer or if the Covid situation gets worse so keep an eye on any developments. 

READ ALSO: Germany drops Covid entry restrictions for non-EU travellers

Vaccine mandate

The mandate making Covid vaccinations compulsory for medical staff remains in place. A vaccine mandate that would have affected more of the population in Germany was rejected by the Bundestag in a vote in April

READ ALSO: Germany’s top court approves Covid vaccine mandate for health care workers

Workplaces

Masks are no longer mandatory in workplaces, unless it is in a setting where more risks groups are, such as hospitals or care homes. 

The government no longer requires people to work from home, but employers and employees can reach their own ‘home office’ arrangement.

Tests are also no longer mandatory, but workplaces can offer their employees regular tests. 

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