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JENS SPAHN

Fourth Covid wave in Germany ‘depends on our actions’, warns Health Minister

As Covid-19 figures drop across Germany, Health Minister Jens Spahn has warned against taking a blasé attitude to the ongoing crisis in order to avoid a fourth wave.

Fourth Covid wave in Germany 'depends on our actions', warns Health Minister
Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) holds a press conference in Berlin on June 25th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bernd von Jutrczenka

Whether the country is facing another major outbreak in the coming months “depends on our actions”, Spahn told a smattering of reporters at a Berlin press briefing on Friday.

“A carefree summer cannot turn into a worrying autumn,” he warned. 

The rate of Covid-19 infection has been dropping rapidly in Germany over the past few months.

On Friday, the RKI reported that the 7-day incidence of new infections per 100,000 people had decreased to 6.2, down from 6.6 the day before, and 10.3 the previous week. 

Meanwhile, 774 new Covid infections were logged in 24 hours, down from more than a thousand just a week ago. A total of 62 deaths were reported in the same time period.

But at the press conference on Friday afternoon, the German Health Minister and Lothar Wieler, president of the Robert Koch Insitute (RKI), were united in their calls for caution. 

The use of the Corona Warn App and the ‘AHA’ acronym – distance, hygiene, and wearing a mask indoors – would continue to be necessary over summer, emphasised Wieler. 

While people will likely be free to travel this summer, they should also observe hygiene rules and stay vigilant while abroad, he added. 

Health officials in Germany are currently keeping a close eye on the spread of the Delta variant, a highly infectious strain of Covid-19 that was first discovered in India.

READ ALSO: ANALYSIS – Where (and how) are Germany’s Delta variant Covid-19 infections spreading?

The proportion of Delta cases as a share of infections is currently rising steeply across Germany, though the overall number of Delta cases remains steady. 

Asked whether Delta was more dangerous than the more dominant Alpha variant of Covid, Wieler said that it was still too early to say for sure. What we do know, he said, is that more people infected with the Delta variant end up in hospital.

‘Do you think we enjoy restricting freedom?’

Fending off his critics, Spahn was keen to point out that the Covid-19 measures put in place by the government were not ideological.

“Does anyone here really think we enjoy restricting people’s freedoms?” Spahn asked the reporters who were assembled in the Bundestag press centre.

Spahn and Wieler also fielded numerous questions about the restrictions placed on school pupils, including the Robert Koch Institute’s recent recommendation that testing and masks continue in schools until next spring. 

READ MORE: German health officials – Masks and Covid tests should continue in schools until spring 2022

“How should we interpret the news that, while ‘home office’ rules are coming to an end, Covid measures in schools are set to continue?” asked one reporter.

“Does the Health Minister consider young people to be particularly dangerous in terms of the spread of the pandemic?” 

In response, Spahn explained that, while Germany was likely set for a relaxed summer, the country could be in a very different place in autumn and winter, when infection rates are likely to rise. 

This could also coincide with the return of children to schools in September – when most German states want to reintroduce in-person teaching at pre-pandemic capacities. 

“Parents and children have, I think justifiably, the expectation that after the school holidays, the school term will be much better conceptualised than it was earlier this year,” Spahn said. 

Mask-wearing had been shown to be an incredibly effective measure against the spread of the pandemic, Wieler added. 

‘Vast majority’ can get vaccine in coming weeks

In response to a question on Germany’s vaccination drive, Spahn appeared relaxed about the availability of appointments. 

He pointed out that doctors’ surgeries were generally giving out spare vaccine doses at the end of the day, and that there were numerous other options to get vaccinated, such as at universities or through last-minute appointments at large vaccination centres. 

READ ALSO: State by state – How to apply for a Covid vaccine appointment in Germany

In Potsdam, near Berlin, he said he was aware of numerous available appointments over the coming days. 

“My impression is that, over the next few weeks, the vast majority of people who want a vaccine will be able to get an appointment,” he said. 

So far in Germany’s inoculation campaign, 52.9 percent of the population has received at least one dose of the vaccine, while more than a third (34.1 percent) are now fully vaccinated.

According to German government’s Impfdashboard, almost one million vaccine doses were given out on Thursday.

Pharmacies to receive reduced reimbursement for digital vaccine pass

In mid-June, the German government began the gradual roll-out of its digital vaccine pass, which should offer an easier way for people to prove their vaccination status. 

Without a digital pass, anyone who wants to show that they were fully inoculated has to carry their yellow vaccine booklet around with them.

READ ALSO:

Earlier this month Spahn said he planned to reduce the amount of money that pharmacies receive for giving out the pass from July.

Though the digital pass is issued to customers free-of-charge, pharmacies currently receive €18 from the government for each certificate they issue.

“From the start of July – I can’t put an exact date on it – the pharmacies will get €6 per certificate, which I think people can deal with,” he said. 

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COVID-19 HEALTH PASS

What documents do you need to carry for Germany’s 2G-plus restrictions?

Many people - including tourists - are wondering exactly what they need to carry for Germany's new restrictions that favour Covid- boosted people. Here's what you should know.

A person getting their vaccination pass checked at a cafe in Düsseldorf.
A person getting their vaccination pass checked at a cafe in Düsseldorf under the new 2G-plus rules. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Henning Kaiser

What’s happened?

Last week the federal government and states agreed on tougher entry restrictions to get into cafes, restaurants and bars. The 2G-plus rules mean that people have to be vaccinated or recovered from Covid-19 and have a negative Covid test, or have had a booster shot. 

States are bringing in their own legislation on that, and many of them are extending the 2G-plus rule to almost all public places, including in leisure and cultural facilities. 

There are still a few unclear points, but we hope this information helps explain the current situation. 

What documents do I need to carry?

As with the previous 2G rules, the latest restrictions mean you will be stopped from entering a public place – like a restaurant – unless you show a number of documents. 

OPINION: The pandemic has revealed Germany’s deep obsession with rules and compliance

READ ALSO: What we know so far about Germany’s 2G-plus rules for restaurants

Vaccinated (geimpft)

You need to have proof that you are fully vaccinated – preferably with a QR code. That can be the EU digital vaccination certificate (either uploaded to the Corona-Warn or CovPass app) or the paper with the QR code. Other foreign digital vaccination passes – such as the NHS app from the UK – are also accepted. 

When it comes to people who were vaccinated abroad and don’t have a digital vaccination pass, things get a bit more tricky. 

If you are based in Germany and were vaccinated abroad you should be able to get an EU digital pass from a pharmacy. If you show them your documents (vaccine certificate with a vaccine approved in the EU, ID and possibly registration certificate or Anmeldung), they can convert it for you.

If you are not based in Germany – for instance if you are visiting as a tourist – you are technically not meant to get the EU digital vaccine certificate in Germany. 

The official line from the German government is that to get the digital certificate, you need to live, work or study in Germany.  However, some people have able to get it by trying different pharmacies. 

READ MORE: Visiting Germany – is it possible to get the EU digital vaccine certificate?

The Local has been reporting how some German states, such as Berlin, Baden-Württemberg and Saarland are phasing out paper proof like the international vaccination booklet and require a vaccination pass with a QR code. 

Some pharmacies are also now offering an alternative card to people who either don’t have a smartphone, or want a physical document proving their vaccination.

The Immunkarte, developed by a Leipzig start-up, is available either online or at about 7,500 partner pharmacies across Germany for just under €10.

READ MORE: How proving vaccinations in Germany changes in 2022

Tourists and visitors can still present the vaccination proof they were issued in their country (eg a CDC card from the United States).

It is usually accepted (Berlin for instance allows non-German residents to show proof of vaccination that doesn’t have a QR code). But keep in mind that some businesses could be super strict if they prefer to scan the QR code to allow entry. 

Booster shot (geboostert)

Under the 2G-plus rules, you will also need to show proof of being boosted – usually having three jabs. Currently about 45 percent of the German population has received a booster vaccination against Covid.

There is some debate over what being boosted actually means in Germany. For instance, the Health Ministry told us that people who’ve had the Johnson & Johnson single dose vaccine plus an mRNA shot, are technically not boosted as they require another shot three months later. 

But some Local readers say their J&J and top-up shot is accepted as being fully boosted.

According to broadcaster ZDF people who’ve had J&J and a single shot are accepted as being boosted in the states of Hamburg, Hesse, North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate and Thuringia.

READ ALSO: What people who’ve had J&J in Germany need to know

States also handle vaccination breakthrough infections differently: while in Bavaria, Hamburg and North Rhine-Westphalia a Covid infection after two vaccinations leads to the status “boosted”, this regulation doesn’t seem to apply in Baden-Württemberg, Hesse, Saarland and Thuringia. Here, recovered people have to also get a booster jab after a breakthrough infection in order to be considered boosted.

There is also some debate over when you are counted as being booster under the 2G-plus rules following your booster shot. Most states say that you are boosted straight after you get your top-up vaccination, but according to Focus Online, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Schleswig-Holstein count people as being boosted for the 2G-plus rules 14 days after their booster shot.

A lot of it will depend on the operator of the restaurant or bar you’re trying to enter, which is not ideal. 

Hopefully these issues will be ironed out in the coming days as states bring in the rules. 

Covid-19 test (getestet)

If you have not yet received a booster vaccination, you need to show proof of a negative Covid-19 test. This usually has to be taken within the last 24 hours if it’s an antigen test, or 48 hours if it’s a PCR test. 

In Germany, rapid tests are free and there are many test centres in towns and cities. People are allowed one per week, but lots of places offer residents one per day.

You will usually receive the result of the test in digital format and you will have to show that along with your vaccination proof when entering a 2G-plus facility. 

You can find more information on test sites across Germany here.

ID (Ausweis)

As well as your vaccination proof, you will usually be asked for photo ID. That can be a passport, residence permit or health insurance card.

Recovery (genesen)

In Germany you are classed as “recovered” if you received a PCR test  or a similar test checked in a lab taken at least 28 days ago. It must also not be older than six months. However, if you have recovered and have been vaccinated, you can be given an EU digital certificate from the pharmacy or doctor.

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