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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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Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

German health ministers say that tougher Covid restrictions should come back into force if a serious wave emerges in autumn.

Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

Following a video meeting on Monday, the health ministers of Germany’s 16 states said tougher restrictions should be imposed again if they are needed. 

“The corona pandemic is not over yet – we must not be deceived by the current declining incidences,” said Saxony-Anhalt’s health minister Petra Grimm-Benne, of the Social Democrats, who currently chairs the Conference of Health Ministers (GMK).

According to the GMK, new virus variants are expected to appear in autumn and winter. Over the weekend, federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) also warned that the more dangerous Delta variant could return to Germany. “That is why the federal Ministry of Health should draw up a master plan to combat the corona pandemic as soon as possible and coordinate it with the states,” Grimm-Benne said.

Preparations should also include an amendment of the Infection Protection Act, ministers urged. They want to see the states given powers to react to the infection situation in autumn and winter. They called on the government to initiate the legislative process in a timely manner, and get the states actively involved.

The current Infection Protection Act expires on September 23rd this year. Germany has loosened much of its Covid restrictions in the last months, however, face masks are still compulsory on public transport as well as on planes. 

READ ALSO: Do people in Germany still have to wear Covid masks on planes?

The health ministers said that from autumn onwards, it should be possible for states to make masks compulsory indoors if the regional infection situation calls for it. Previously, wearing a Covid mask was obligatory in Germany when shopping and in restaurants and bars when not sitting at a table. 

Furthermore, the so-called 3G rule for accessing some venues and facilities – where people have to present proof of vaccination, recovery, or a negative test – should be implemented again if needed, as well as other infection protection rules, the ministers said. 

Bavaria’s health minister Klaus Holetschek, of the CSU, welcomed the ministers’ unanimous call for a revision of the Infection Protection Act. “The states must be able to take all necessary infection protection measures quickly, effectively, and with legal certainty,” he said.

North Rhine-Westphalia’s health minister Karl-Josef Laumann (CDU) warned that no one should “lull themselves into a false sense of security”.

“We must now prepare for the colder season and use the time to be able to answer important questions about the immunity of the population or the mechanisms of infection chains,” he said.

On Tuesday, Germany reported 86,253 Covid infections within the latest 24 hour period, as well as 215 Covid-related deaths. The 7-day incidence stood at 437.6 infections per 100,000 people. However, experts believe there could be twice as many infections because lots of cases go unreported. 

READ ALSO: Five things to know about the Covid pandemic in Germany right now