Germany to tighten national coronavirus law in bid to ‘create uniform rules’

German leaders have agreed to tighten the national coronavirus law, a government spokeswoman said Friday.

Germany to tighten national coronavirus law in bid to 'create uniform rules'
Chancellor Angela Merkel on March 25th. Photo: DPA

The move will hand the central government more power in the face of a political stalemate over lockdown measures.

“Germany is in the middle of a third wave, so the federal government and the states have agreed to add to the national legislation,” Chancellor Angela Merkel’s deputy spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer told reporters.

“The aim here is to create uniform national rules,” she added, explaining that the law change would be put before cabinet on Tuesday next week.

READ ALSO: Should Germany have greater power to enforce Covid-19 rules at federal level?

According to Germany’s most widely read newspaper Bild, the proposed adjustments to the law would also require night-time curfews and some school closures in especially hard-hit areas.

Germany remains gripped by rising infection rates, despite cultural venues, restaurants and leisure facilities having been closed for months.

Health authorities warned Friday that hospitals could become overwhelmed without tougher national measures.

Crunch talks cancelled

Currently coronavirus measures are decided on in consultation with Berlin and – in theory – implemented by the federal states.

Yet regional and national leaders are divided over restrictions, with Merkel calling for a tighter lockdown as some regions and cities unilaterally ease restrictions.

With no sign of consensus, Demmer confirmed media reports that talks between Merkel and state premiers planned for Monday had been cancelled.

READ ALSO: Merkel vs Germany’s states: Who really holds the power to fight the pandemic?

The regular meetings have until now set policy for Germany’s fight against the coronavirus pandemic but have been marked by bitter disputes and spotty compliance in recent weeks.

Most notably, some states have not followed through on an agreement to row back on the easing of measures in areas where the seven-day incidence rate exceeds 100 cases per 100,000 people.

Demmer said the law change would help impose this “emergency brake” nationwide.

“The solution we have found was necessary because the emergency brake was being applied in very different ways,” she said.

Calls to change the law had been growing over the last week amid rising case numbers, and warnings from health authorities on Friday that a nationwide lockdown was needed to break the third wave.

Member comments

  1. They’re solving the wrong problem. The problem is the shambles around getting everyone vaccinated and Germany’s apparent inability to organize a p*ss up in a brewery. (The irony isn’t lost.) On Monday, the UK will have officially achieved herd immunity against Covid. This wasn’t due to changing the law to control an increasingly intolerant population, it was by implementing an efficient vaccination programme.

    I really hope that the German media reports extensively on life re-opening in the UK on Monday…people in pub gardens, back in the gym…dreams which are months from reality in Germany. Perhaps opening the eyes of the voting population to just how badly things have been handled here relative to other countries might provoke some reaction.

    1. But what can the average resident in Germany do? Quite frankly, I’m done with Germany and will be heading back home as soon as its feasible (and once I have been fully vaccinated – I had my first jab last week). I feel so let down by the German government. We should all be very angry. total incompetance.

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Bavaria signals end to compulsory masks on public transport

Bavaria's state premier Markus Söder (CSU) has announced plans for a "prompt" end to mandatory masks on buses and trains.

Bavaria signals end to compulsory masks on public transport

If infection levels and hospitalisations remain low, the end of the mask-wearing rule could come as soon as December or January.

“We are convinced that the mask requirement in public transport could also be phased out either in mid-December or early next year, if the numbers remain reasonably stable and there are no new mutations,” Söder explained on Monday, following a meeting with the CSU executive committee. 

A decision on when to end the measure would be made “promptly”, he added.

The CSU politician had said last week that the sinking infection rates meant that compulsory masks were no longer appropriate and that the mandate could be changed to a recommendation. 

No set date for change

The latest version of Bavaria’s Infection Protection Act – which lays out an obligation to wear masks on public transport as one of the few remaining Covid rules – is currently due to expire on December 9th.

State ministers could decide whether to let obligatory masks on buses and trains lapse on this date as early as next week, or they could decide to initially extend the legislation and set an alternative date for ending the rule.

Regardless of their decision, FFP2 masks will continue to be mandatory on long-distance public transport until at least April next year, when the nationwide Infection Protection Act is due to expire.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Germany’s new Covid-19 rules from October

Speaking to Süddeutsche Zeitung on Monday after the meeting of the Council of Ministers, Florian Herrmann (CSU), head of the State Chancellery, confirmed that Covid-19 had been discussed in passing.

However, no decisions or discussions were made on how to proceed after the expiry of the regulation, he said.

According to Herrmann, the fact that Covid was no longer the “dominant topic” in the cabinet under “enormous tension” shows “that we are returning to normality” in a gradual transition from pandemic to endemic. 

As of Wednesday, the 7-day incidence of Covid infections per 100,000 people stood at 108 in Bavaria, down from 111 the previous day. However, experts have cast doubt on how meaningful the incidence is in light of the fact that fewer people are taking tests.

Nevertheless, the 133 hospital beds occupied by Covid patients in the Free State falls well below the 600 threshold for a ‘red alert’. With Omicron causing less severe courses of illness than previous variants, politicians have increasingly focussed on hospitalisation statistics to gauge the severity of the situation.

‘A risk-benefit trade-off’

Bavaria is the second federal state to announce plans to relax its mask-wearing rules in recent weeks.

On November 14th, the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein announced that it would be ending obligatory FFP2 masks on public transport and urged other states to do the same. From January 2023, masks on public transport will only be recommended rather than mandated for passengers on local buses and trains. 

However, the Federal Ministry of Health has urged states not to loosen their rules too quickly.

Given that infection rates are likely to spike again in winter, “there’s no basis for loosening restrictions”, said Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD).

Physicians are also split on whether an end to masks on public transport is appropriate.

READ ALSO: Will Germany get rid of masks on public transport?

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) speaks at the German Hospital Day in Düsseldorf on November 14th. Lauterbach is against the lifting of the mask-wearing rule. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Roberto Pfeil

Christoph Spinner, a virologist at the University Hospital in Munich, told Süddeutsche Zeitung he believed it was time to put the decision on mask-wearing back into the hands of individuals.

“Why not? The incidences are low, the danger of Covid-19 has dropped significantly and mortality has also decreased,” he said. 

But the Bavarian General Practitioners’ Association spoke out against the move, arguing that – unlike a trip to a restaurant or cinema – people often have no choice but to travel on public transport.

“If the obligation to wear a mask in public transport is maintained, this will help to protect against a Covid infection on the way to work by bus or train – especially in view of the discontinuation of the obligation to isolate in the event of a Covid infection,” they explained.

Bavaria is one of four states to have recently ended mandatory isolation for people who test positive for Covid. Baden-Württemberg and Schleswig-Holstein both scrapped their isolation mandate last week, while Hesse removed its obligation on Tuesday. 

READ ALSO: Four German states call for end to mandatory Covid isolation