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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School closures in Germany ‘cannot be ruled out’, says minister

Health Minster Karl Lauterbach (SPD) wants to give states the option of closing schools if a more dangerous variant of Covid emerges in autumn.

School closures in Germany 'cannot be ruled out', says minister

The SPD politician said the controversial measure of shutting down schools couldn’t be ruled out as the government prepares for another major Covid wave in autumn.

“I think they (school closures) are very, very unlikely,” he said on ARD’s Anne Will talkshow on Sunday. “They would then be the very last resort. But I would be cautious about ruling them out because we don’t know which variants are coming.”

However, he said he no longer believed full-scale lockdowns to be necessary in the fight against the pandemic.

READ ALSO: How useful are Germany’s Covid restrictions?

“We simply have too good an immune status among the population for that,” he explained.

Lauterbach’s comments are likely to put him on a collision course with Justice Minister Marco Buschmann (FDP), who has recently ruled out the reintroduction of several Covid protection measures, including school closures. 

Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) also said on ARD on Sunday that “there should be no more school closures”.

The Federal Health Minister is currently negotiating with Buschmann on amendments to the Infection Protection Act, which provides the legal basis for Covid measures like masks and testing. 

At the moment, the legislation provides states with very limited powers to bring in new Covid rules: since April, they have been largely restricted to masks on public transport and testing in clinics. However, the current version of the Act expires on September 23rd. 

With fears of a renewed sharp rise in infections – and possible new variants that could cause more severe illness – the Health Ministry wants to amend the Infection Protection Act to give states more powers to introduce rules such as mandatory testing and indoor masks in autumn. 

Lauterbach said the planned measures should give state governments the tools they need to cover different scenarios that could happen. “We must also be prepared for very severe variants,” he said. “This has to be a comprehensive set of instruments, not a narrow-gauge issue.”

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The Covid rules in place across German states