Germany’s new ’emergency brake’ Covid restrictions come into force Saturday

Residents in Germany will have to prepare for new coronavirus restrictions this weekend as a new national law comes into effect.

Germany's new 'emergency brake' Covid restrictions come into force Saturday
A closed restaurant in Bremen on Thursday. Photo: DPA

The controversial changes to the Infection Protection Act come into force on Friday.

And in districts and cities with a 7-day incidence of more than 100 Covid cases per 100,000 residents in the last three days, the federal “emergency brake” Covid measures are to take effect automatically from Saturday, the Interior Ministry said.

Ministry spokesman Steve Alter said that under state law, the authorities responsible for affected districts and cities have to announce that the emergency brake is coming in on Saturday before the end of the day on Friday.

The law was passed earlier this week by the Bundestag before it was approved by the Bundesrat, which represents the 16 states.

According to the RKI dashboard, around 351 districts and cities in Germany have a 7-day incidence above 100. On Friday Germany logged 27,543 cases within the last 24 hours, and 265 deaths.

The nationwide 7-day incidence increased to 164.

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

What are the rules?

The emergency brake measures come into force if the number of reported new infections per 100,000 inhabitants in a district or city exceeds 100 within seven days for three days in a row.

The map below by DPA shows the worst-hit areas (above an incidence of 300) in dark purple. Dark red areas have an incidence above 200, and the red areas have an incidence above 100.

Then, as a rule, people are no longer allowed to leave their homes between 10pm-5am unless it’s for an essential reason like work or a medical emergency. Walking and jogging alone outside is allowed until midnight.

No more than one household can meet with another person, with the exception of children up to 14. Shops can only open for customers who present a negative Covid-19 test and have booked an appointment. Classroom attendance at schools is to be stopped at an incidence of 165 for three days.

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

The guidelines have been formulated by the government but states must implement them. Previously, virus restrictions in Germany have been decided in consultations between Merkel and the leaders of the 16 states.

However, often regional leaders have failed to put in place shutdown measures which they agreed with Merkel, with many choosing broad interpretations of the rules.

What’s the reaction?

It’s been mixed. The German District Association slammed the regulations, saying states can now not as easily react flexibly to the infection situation on the ground. 

“The federal emergency brake is not the beneficial instrument it is thought to be,” said Landkreistag President Reinhard Sager told the Rheinische Post. He also said it could be “confusing” for people.

Several state premiers also spoke out against the Bundesrat hearing of the law on Thursday.

Hamburg’s mayor Peter Tschentscher (SPD) said it was positive that there is a binding regulation for the whole of Germany.

But he slammed the government for softening of the initial restriction – the curfew was planned to come into force at 9pm but then changed to 10pm after the opposition rallied against it.

Tschenscher also considers it inconsistent to open up shops through ‘click and meet’, i.e. shopping after making an appointment, instead of closing them when cases rise.

Hamburg has had ’emergency brake’ measures in place for several weeks now, including a 9pm curfew – and initial signs show the incidence is decreasing.

ANALYSIS: Is Hamburg proof that an ’emergency brake’ can get Covid-19 cases down?

Meanwhile, Hesse’s Prime Minister Volker Bouffier (CDU) said the law was “highly vulnerable” from a legal point of view and posed a “lot of practical problems”.

And Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania’s state premier Manuela Schwesig said the changes could lead to a “constant back and forth” of differing rules which would “unsettle people”.

She said her state was sticking to protective measures that went beyond those of the federal government.

As with all our stories, we aim to give you the most up-to-date information. However, please check with your local government for any regional variations.

Member comments

  1. Minimally more serious restrictions from a spineless government that lacks the competency to simply make a informed decision to improve the situation. Congrats guys, looking forward to our 1 year aniversery of the short restrictions from November 2020!

  2. Absolutely comedic leadership virtually handing the chancellery to The Greens via September’s upcoming protest vote. The developed world is in stitches watching Germany implode.

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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