EXPLAINED: These are the planned changes to Germany’s ’emergency brake’ Covid rules

The German government is trying to introduce uniform Covid-19 rules for badly-hit areas. But before the plans pass into law, politicians are having a rethink on curfews and schools.

EXPLAINED: These are the planned changes to Germany's 'emergency brake' Covid rules
An ordungsamt worker in Cologne where a curfew from 9pm to 5am is in place. Photo: DPA

Politicians in Germany are holding crunch talks over a new nationwide ’emergency brake’ mechanism that would force states to implement tougher Covid rules when infections reach a certain level. 

On Monday, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives (the CDU and CSU) plus the Social Democrat (SPD) parliamentary groups – which make up the coalition government – discussed changes to the Infection Protection Act draft. 

If the law is passed by the Bundestag, states would be obliged to enforce new restrictions as soon as more than 100 new coronavirus infections per 100,000 inhabitants are registered over three days in a seven-day period.

Here are the proposed changes under discussion: 

– Night-time curfews in badly-hit Covid areas should be in place from 10pm to 5am – an hour later than initially planned. Jogging and walks would be allowed until midnight. People would generally only be allowed to leave their homes during the curfew for work or emergencies.

– The collection of ordered goods (click and collect) in non-essential shops should still be possible even when there are a high number of Covid infections.

– In schools, virtual learning would be compulsory when a region hits a 7-day incidence of 165 Covid infections per 100,000 people or more. In the original draft, a threshold of 200 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants in seven days was specified. But experts said this was too high. For children up to the age of 14, sports should continue to be possible in groups.

– The outdoor areas of zoos and botanical gardens are to remain open to visitors with an up-to-date negative Covid test.

– Employers must provide two coronavirus rapid tests per week to staff who can’t work from home. If the employer says staff can work from home, employees have to accept this offer, according to parliamentary circles.

– All regulations are initially limited to June 30th.

Other parts of the draft include limiting gatherings of people from different households. Contact with one person outside of the household is permitted, with a maximum of five people being allowed together in hotspots.

READ MORE: When will Germany decide on new nationwide Covid restrictions?

When would this come into force?

The Bundestag wants to pass the law on Wednesday. It will then go to the Bundesrat – which represents Germany’s 16 states – on Thursday.

If it is passed, the update to the Infection Protection Act would be put into place as soon as possible, with the aim of breaking the third wave.

Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) said it was “crucial” to take action in three different sections. He named companies, daycare and schools as well as “above all the area of ​​private contacts”, as the places where contact needed to be cut down.

READ ALSO: ‘No way around it’: Merkel defends Germany’s nationwide coronavirus measures

Spahn called on states to introduce restrictions immediately. “Nobody has to wait for this law,” he said. “It’s an emergency brake. Ideally, the brakes have already been applied beforehand.” Some states have already started doing this.

Coronavirus cases continue to rise, as the Our World in Data graph below shows, despite cultural venues, restaurants and leisure facilities having been closed for months in Germany.

Is everyone in agreement?

If they aren’t, we’ll certainly hear about it during the Bundestag hearing on Wednesday.

“The Bundestag has to agree, without any reservations or conditions,” said SPD parliamentary deputy Dirk Wiese.

Criticism came from his SPD colleague Karl Lauterbach who said an earlier curfew from 8pm rather than 10pm would have been “more effective” and saved more lives.

Union parliamentary group vice leader Thorsten Frei (CDU) said the compromise will help “bridge the difficult weeks until the end of June at the latest”.

The draft law is suitable for “effectively breaking” the third wave of the pandemic, he said. On the other hand, the acceptance of the measures in the population will be strengthened.

READ ALSO: German lockdown measures could last ‘until the end of May or June’

Member comments

  1. 1.) Vaccinate ALL of us. Now.

    2.) Apply and followthrough on harsh penalties (bashed on NOT social distancing and wearing masks) for all rule breakers: loss of salary for a minimum of two weeks or confiscate their mobile phone for four weeks.

    We will then see the number of cases dropped drastically…

  2. Virtual school? Might as well cancel it entirely since kids don’t learn a thing. Their “experts” aren’t. Science has shown that it is rare for kids to spread COVID at school and most cases are among staff that caught it from other staff or out in their own social lives. Stop punishing the children. Thankfully, our school won’t close no matter how high the cases go because all the teachers are vaccinated.

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Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

German health ministers say that tougher Covid restrictions should come back into force if a serious wave emerges in autumn.

Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

Following a video meeting on Monday, the health ministers of Germany’s 16 states said tougher restrictions should be imposed again if they are needed. 

“The corona pandemic is not over yet – we must not be deceived by the current declining incidences,” said Saxony-Anhalt’s health minister Petra Grimm-Benne, of the Social Democrats, who currently chairs the Conference of Health Ministers (GMK).

According to the GMK, new virus variants are expected to appear in autumn and winter. Over the weekend, federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) also warned that the more dangerous Delta variant could return to Germany. “That is why the federal Ministry of Health should draw up a master plan to combat the corona pandemic as soon as possible and coordinate it with the states,” Grimm-Benne said.

Preparations should also include an amendment of the Infection Protection Act, ministers urged. They want to see the states given powers to react to the infection situation in autumn and winter. They called on the government to initiate the legislative process in a timely manner, and get the states actively involved.

The current Infection Protection Act expires on September 23rd this year. Germany has loosened much of its Covid restrictions in the last months, however, face masks are still compulsory on public transport as well as on planes. 

READ ALSO: Do people in Germany still have to wear Covid masks on planes?

The health ministers said that from autumn onwards, it should be possible for states to make masks compulsory indoors if the regional infection situation calls for it. Previously, wearing a Covid mask was obligatory in Germany when shopping and in restaurants and bars when not sitting at a table. 

Furthermore, the so-called 3G rule for accessing some venues and facilities – where people have to present proof of vaccination, recovery, or a negative test – should be implemented again if needed, as well as other infection protection rules, the ministers said. 

Bavaria’s health minister Klaus Holetschek, of the CSU, welcomed the ministers’ unanimous call for a revision of the Infection Protection Act. “The states must be able to take all necessary infection protection measures quickly, effectively, and with legal certainty,” he said.

North Rhine-Westphalia’s health minister Karl-Josef Laumann (CDU) warned that no one should “lull themselves into a false sense of security”.

“We must now prepare for the colder season and use the time to be able to answer important questions about the immunity of the population or the mechanisms of infection chains,” he said.

On Tuesday, Germany reported 86,253 Covid infections within the latest 24 hour period, as well as 215 Covid-related deaths. The 7-day incidence stood at 437.6 infections per 100,000 people. However, experts believe there could be twice as many infections because lots of cases go unreported. 

READ ALSO: Five things to know about the Covid pandemic in Germany right now