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Which German states are restarting school in August – and what will the rules be?

The dates of the school holidays vary across each of the 16 German states - as do the Covid measures in place. Here are the states returning in late August, and what the pupils can expect in the new school year.

Which German states are restarting school in August - and what will the rules be?
Teacher Caroline Heckert leads a class at a primary school in Saarland. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Oliver Dietze

At the end of July and start of August, the northern states of Schleswig-Holstein and Mecklenburg Western-Pomerania (July 31st), Hamburg (August 4th), Berlin (August 6th) and Brandenburg (August 9th) all resumed in-person teaching for the start of the new semester.

READ ALSO: Masks, Covid jabs, tests and ventilation: How German children are returning to the classroom

While a number of southern states are returning in the early weeks of September, four western states will be starting their new school year over the next fortnight. Here’s a run-down of the states who are resuming teaching, and the most important Covid rules that pupils and their parents should know about beforehand.

August 18th: North Rhine-Westphalia

The new school year kicks off in the middle of August in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia, and children will be learning alongside their classmates in classrooms filled to their pre-pandemic capacity.

The bi-weekly Covid tests are set to continue, with “lollipop” PCR tests for primary school pupils and those at special-needs schools. Fully vaccinated children over the age of 12 will be exempt from taking the test. General hygiene measures will continue, and children will be expected to wear masks in the indoor areas of the school, though the state government says they will keep this rule under review throughout the first semester. 

READ ALSO: ‘Nobody can rule out enormous fourth wave’: German schools fear new Covid restrictions

On August 13th, the government also passed legislation to minimise the number of people who would need to quarantine in an event of a positive Covid test result. Rather than teachers and entire teaching groups requiring self-isolation, only the pupils sitting next to the child will need to go into quarantine. Teaching staff may also need to quarantine, but only if they’re unvaccinated and have been in particularly close contact with the child without a medical mask. 

August 30th: Hesse, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland

When schools in Hesse reopen their gates after the summer holidays, pupils will once again be attending classes in-person, but two “prevention weeks” will take place at the start of the semesters to minimise the risk of infection. The tighter rules will include wearing medical masks during classes and taking Covid tests three times a week, rather than the standard two.

After September 10th, children will need their medical masks to-hand before entering the school buildings, but they won’t have to wear them during classes, sports or musical activities, or in outdoor areas, as long as social distancing measures are in place. To tackle the spread of the virus, teachers will be asked to air out classrooms regularly. As in other states, tests will then take place twice a week. 

The neighbouring state of Rhineland-Palatinate will be following Hesse’s lead with two weeks of intensified Covid-19 measures at the start of its own semester start – ending on September 10th. During the two back-to-back “protection weeks”, children will need to wear masks while at their desks to prevent the spread of infection from families who’ve just returned from their holidays. During this time, they will also have to take bi-weekly tests in order to be able to participate in classes.

During Hesse’s and Rhineland-Palatinate’s “protection weeks”, children will have to wear medical masks in the classroom. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Gregor Fischer

Depending on the current infection rates, the testing will continue throughout the semester – with exceptions for the vaccinated and recovered.

In addition, state premier Malu Dreyer (SPD) recently announced that €18 million in state funding would be made available for improved ventilation systems in schools to stem the spread of the virus.  

Saarland, meanwhile, plans to kick off its new school year by handing out two rapid tests to every school pupil, employee and teacher to use before returning to the classroom. The goal is “to avoid the spread of Covid infections after the school holidays as much as possible”, the government said in a press release. Alongside the tests, masks and ventilation will be used to fight the spread of the virus over the first two weeks – with the government set to make announcements about more long-term measures a few weeks before the start of term.

Vaccinations in schools?  

On Monday, August 16th, the Standing Vaccines Commission (STIKO) came off the fence on the issue of general vaccinations for the over-12s, delighting politicians who are keen to boost vaccination rates.

Now, with an official recommendation in place that all over-12s should be vaccinated against Covid, a number of states are urging parents to get their teenage children jabbed before – or during – the new semester.

READ ALSO: Germany’s vaccine panel recommends Covid jab for everyone over 12

With the inoculation campaign moving away from large vaccination centres and towards mobile vaccination teams, it’s likely that state education ministries will be taking matters into their own hands. Some states – such as North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate – have promised that anyone who wants one will be able to get a jab at school.

So expect to see vaccination teams making an appearance in the school grounds over the coming months in expect to broaden the number of young people getting immunised against Covid.

Which states are returning in September? 

With the northern and western states largely back at school, the eastern and southern states (along with Lower Saxony) will all be returning for their new school year in September. Here are the dates when the remaining German states resume teaching again.

September 2nd: Bremen, Lower Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt

September 4th: Saxony

September 5th: Thuringia 

September 12th: Baden-Württemburg 

September 14th: Bavaria

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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