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EXPLAINED: What you need to know about Germany’s new nationwide Covid-19 rules

Germany is introducing national 'emergency brake' rules for areas with high Covid-19 rates, which includes most of the country. Here's what it means.

EXPLAINED: What you need to know about Germany's new nationwide Covid-19 rules
People in Leipzig on Wednesday. Photo: DPA

The German parliament on Wednesday passed a controversial amendment to the Infections Protection Act to give Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government power to impose tougher anti-coronavirus measures.

The changes were approved by the Bundesrat, which represents the 16 states, after a heated discussion on Thursday. The bill is a so-called Einspruchsgesetz, which means it didn’t require the consent of the Bundesrat to get through.

It will now be presented to federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier who has to sign it. It’s expected that it will come into force in the coming days.  We’ll keep you updated on the process.

What’s the aim of the nationwide emergency brake?

The law prescribes that if the number of new infections per 100,000 residents in seven days (7-day incidence) rises above 100 in a city or district for three days in a row, tough measures, including shutdowns and overnight curfews must be applied.

Until now, these measures – although agreed between the government and states in Covid meetings – were the state’s responsibility to implement. But this has led to a patchwork of different rules.

In recent weeks many state leaders have dragged their feet and continued to keep parts of public life open despite the raging third wave.

The government says it is trying to “significantly reduce contacts and slow the spread of the virus in the event of an increased incidence of infection”.

What exactly are the measures?

Curfew

A night-time curfew would go into place between 10pm and 5am in areas with an incidence above 100 under the rules. The government says only those with a “good reason” should be outside during this time. Exceptions include medical emergencies, walking the dog and professional reasons (for example taxi drivers or going to work). Jogging and walking remain permitted until midnight if you are out alone.

The government had previously talked about a 9pm curfew but this was softened due to pressure from opposition parties including the Free Democrats.

READ ALSO: These are the planned changes to Germany’s ’emergency brake’ coronavirus rules

Shopping

Essential shops like supermarkets, drugstores and pharmacies remain open. Above a 7-day incidence of 100, they will have to close at 10pm in affected regions because a curfew will apply.

Non-essential shops, such as clothes shops and department stores, must close to customers at an incidence rate of 150. But they can stay open for staff to provide delivery or collection services. Customers don’t need a negative Covid test to pick up an item form a shop.

If the incidence is below 150, it is possible to shop at non-essential outlets with an appointment (click and meet) and with an up-to-date negative Covid rapid test result.

Note that in the service sector, everything that is not explicitly prohibited will remain open, for example bike and car repair shops, banks and post offices.

Private meetings

Members of a household can only meet with one other person. However, no more than five people in total are allowed to meet privately (children up to 14 years are not included).

Meetings between members of the same household and spouses or civil partners are also permitted.

Up to this point, many parts of Germany have allowed a household to meet with another household with a maximum of five people.

A maximum of 30 people can attend funerals.

Sports, leisure and culture

Only non-contact sports are allowed outdoors (alone, in pairs or with members of the household). The exception is children up to 14 who can play contact-free sports outside in a group with up to five other children. 

Amusement parks, indoor playgrounds, swimming pools and other facilities remain closed. The same applies to theatres, operas, concert halls, cinemas, museums, exhibitions and memorials.

Outdoor areas of zoos and botanical gardens can remain open if hygiene concepts are worked out – in addition, guests over the age of six need a negative rapid Covid test.

Work

Employers need to allow people to work from home and employees must accept the offer under the new rules.

Those who cannot work at home must be offered a test once a week by the company. Those who are in frequent contact with customers are entitled to a maximum of two tests per week.

READ ALSO: Free Covid tests for staff – These are Germany’s new rules for employers

Schools

In districts that reach a 7-day incidence above 100 infections per 100,000 residents, a mix of in-person and digital teaching must be put in place.

From an incidence of 165, school closures and distance learning apply. “No face-to-face teaching when the incidence is over 165,” said the government.

READ ALSO: German teachers call for stricter school closures as part of country-wide Covid measures

Which areas are affected?

Around 352 out of 412 German districts and cities have a 7-day incidence over 100. Some areas already have tougher measures in place. Check with your local government to in the next few days to find out if any different measures apply. 

READ MORE: Where are Covid-19 cases going up (and down) in Germany?

You can also keep an eye on the Robert Koch Institute’s dashboard which shows the number of cases per 100,000 people over seven days in districts on the left hand side.

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TRAVEL NEWS

Travel in Europe: UK to scrap all Covid travel rules

The UK is set to scrap all Covid-19 travel restrictions in what the government described as a "landmark moment".

Travel in Europe: UK to scrap all Covid travel rules

Testing is no longer required for vaccinated travellers, but the UK government has announced that it will scrap all Covid-19 travel rules on Friday, March 18th.

“As one of the first major economies to remove all its remaining Covid-19 travel restrictions, this is a landmark moment for passengers and the travel and aviation sector,” said the Government in a press release. 

From 4am on March 18th:

  • Passengers going to the UK will no longer be required to fill out a Passenger Locator Form before travel;
  • Passengers who are not vaccinated will not be required to take a pre-departure Covid test, or a Day 2 test following arrival. Fully vaccinated travellers are already exempt from having to do this;
  • Hotel quarantine for travellers coming from ‘red list’ countries, of which there are currently none, will also be scrapped by the end of the month. 

“We will continue monitoring and tracking potential new variants, and keep a reserve of measures which can be rapidly deployed if needed to keep us safe,” said UK Health Minister Sajid Javid. 

The UK has lifted all Covid-related rules including mask rules and mandatory self-isolation if you test positive for Covid.

Some European countries still have Covid restrictions in place for unvaccinated people coming from the UK. 

Until March 18th

Until the new rules come into effect, all travellers are required to fill out a passenger locator form. 

Unvaccinated travellers are also required to take pre-departure test and a test on or before Day 2 following their arrival. 

The UK border officers will recognise proof of vaccination provided with an EU Covid Certificate.

For the UK “fully vaccinated” means 14 days after your final dose of a EMA/FDA or Swiss approved vaccine (Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson). 

After a period of confusion, the UK government says that it will accept mixed doses administered in the EU (eg one dose of AstraZeneca and one of Pfizer).

However people who have only had a single dose after previously recovering from Covid – which is standard practice in some European countries – are not accepted as vaccinated by the UK.

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