EXPLAINED: This is Germany’s five-step plan to head out of shutdown

Chancellor Angela Merkel and Germany's state leaders have put together a plan to come out of shutdown, although it depends on Covid-19 infection rates. Here's a look.

EXPLAINED: This is Germany's five-step plan to head out of shutdown
A shop window in Berlin's Alexanderplatz. Photo: DPA

As The Local reported, the shutdown is to be extended until March 28th. However, there will be some changes, and there are plan to reopen parts of public life.

According to the government and states, the “greater availability of rapid and self-testing is a building block” to help deal with the pandemic. 

Note that in February the government said it was aiming to reopen more things at 35 new infections per 100,000 residents in seven days. But this aim has now changed back to 50 cases per 100,000 residents.

Currently the 7-day incidence in Germany as a whole stands at around 64.7. Only Rhineland-Palatinate (48.6) and Schleswig-Holstein (47.7) have incidence rates under 50 as of Thursday March 4th.

However, some facilities, including shops, will be able to reopen if the incidence rate stays under 100 – with concepts such as appointment booking (so-called click and meet), testing and contact tracing.


Here’s a look at the government and states’ decisions. Keep in mind that individual federal states may differ slightly on their reopening plans.

First stage (from March 1st)

A first opening step in the areas of schools and hairdressers has already been taken. Schools have been open again for some classes across German states since late February. Hairdressing salons have been welcoming customers again since March 1st.

Second stage (from March 8th)

The second opening step, according to the government and states, is to allow bookshops, flower shops and garden centres to reopen in all federal states from next week. Some states have already started allowing this.

But there has to be strict hygiene plans in place and a limit of one customer per 10 square metres for the first 800 square metres of sales space, and another for each additional 20 square metres, according to the paper.

Service outlets that have been closed until now, as well as driving schools, are also allowed to reopen with safety plans with regular rapid or self-administered testing for staff.

Also from March 8th, body related services, such as beauty salons, can also open. For services where a mask cannot be worn permanently (such as cosmetics), a negative Covid-19 rapid or self-test by the customer and regular testing for staff is needed.

Contact restrictions will also be relaxed to allow two households with a maximum of five people to meet. However, if numbers creep up again, measures can be reversed.

The roadmap put together by the German government is detailed below in German, and gives an idea of the opening steps.

Third stage (can be from March 8th)

A third opening step is linked to a stable 7-day incidence of less than 50 new infections per 100,000 residents. If a state achieves this, it can then allow the opening of all shops with restrictions.

Again, according to the paper, shops must comply with the space limits mentioned above. Museums, galleries, zoos and botanical gardens, as well as memorials would also be allowed to reopen.

States may also allow non-contact sports in small groups (with a maximum of 10 people) in outdoor areas.

If the incidence is above 35 but remains below 100 Covid cases per 100,000 people, the government and states say the following applies to these areas:

Retailers are allowed to open for so-called appointment shopping (“click and meet”). But there are further conditions – the number of customers is limited to one person per 40 square metres of sales space and the appointment must be booked in advance for a fixed period of time, and include contact tracking.

Museums, galleries, zoos and botanical gardens as well as memorials are allowed to open for visitors – also with prior appointment booking and contact tracing.

Non contact sports would be allowed with a maximum of five people from two households and sports in groups of up to 20 children up to 14 – in outdoor areas or outdoor sports facilities

But there’s catch. If the 7-day incidence rises above 100 for three consecutive days, a so-called emergency brake comes into effect and the stricter rules that applied until March 7th come into force again, on the second following working day.

Fourth stage (at earliest from March 22nd)

The fourth opening step also depends on the incidence rate. If the 7-day incidence remains stable below 50 for 14 days after the third opening step, a state can reopen outdoor dining in cafes and restaurants, theatres, concert halls, opera houses and cinemas, and allow non-contact sports indoors and contact sports outdoors.

If the incidence increases but still remains below 100, the state can keep these areas open, but conditions apply. According to the paper, visitors to outdoor dining areas must then book an appointment and provide details for contact tracing. They may also have to show a negative coronavirus rapid or self-test if several people from different households are at the same table.

Theatres, concert halls, opera houses and cinemas can then also only be visited with a recent negative rapid Covid-19 or self-administered test.

All participants of indoor non-contact sports as well as outdoor contact sports must also be able to present a negative test.

The emergency brake applies to this too: if the 7-day incidence rises above 100 for three consecutive days, stricter rules apply again.

ANALYSIS: Merkel faces mounting pressure to relax Covid-19 shutdown

Fifth stage (at earliest from April 5th)

If the incidence has not worsened for 14 days after the fourth stage, the fifth opening step can be taken. If the number of coronavirus infections per 100,000 residents in seven days stays below 50, outdoor recreational events with up to 50 people can be allowed, as well as indoor contact sports.

Furthermore, if the 7-day incidence is stable or declining, and between 35 and 100 new infections/100,000 people, there would be less strict rules for entering shops. And non-contact sports indoors and contact sports outdoors would be allowed without testing.

The emergency brake applies if the if the 7-day incidence rises above 100 for three consecutive days.

What about the other parts of public life?

Further reopening and the plan for the sectors not yet named here, such as the hospitality industry, culture, events, travel and hotels, will be discussed at the next federal-state summit scheduled for March 24th.

They will take into account the testing strategy, vaccination, the spread of virus variants and other influencing factors.

Member comments

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    More so because I struggle with the Sprache,
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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.