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Why one German state is choosing to ignore the Covid incidence

The southwestern state of Baden-Württemburg has become the first German state to move away from the 7-day incidence of Covid infections when setting its rules. But what does that mean for residents?

Why one German state is choosing to ignore the Covid incidence
A large tent houses a Covid test centre in Stuttgart, Baden-Württemburg. The state has chosen to introduce a blanket '3G' rule, regardless of incidence. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bernd Weissbrod

When Angela Merkel met with the 16 leaders of the German states last week, the goal was to set a clear and unified agenda for the coming weeks.

Above all, lawmakers were keen to avoid a confusing patchwork scenario where someone crossing a state border – say, from Saxony to Saxony-Anhalt – would suddenly be subject to an entirely different set of rules.

The solution? To formalise a national health pass system that could allow people to enjoy their normal lives on the condition that they could present proof of vaccination, recovery or a recent negative test.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Germany’s new ‘3G’ Covid health pass rules

In the days that followed, however, it quickly became clear that the new rules had left a fair bit of room for interpretation.

Though the federal government has been advising a slow roll-out of the health pass system, the southwestern state of Baden-Württemburg went all in on Monday as it became one of the first states to put the new rules into action.

The ‘3G’ rule holds – regardless of incidence 

From this week, the ‘3G’ rule – which stands for geimpft (vaccinated), genesen (recovered) or getested – has been rolled out far and wide. Now, residents of and visitors to the southern state will need to present their proof of vaccination, recovery or their negative test results at almost all public events and venues. 

This is in marked contrast to the phased introduction of ‘3G’ recommended by the Ministry of Social Affairs: beyond hospitality and gyms, health pass rules will apply everywhere from mini-golf courses to music schools.

In a significant move away from previous policy, the state has also said that the 3G system will be kept in place regardless of the Covid incidence.

Until recently, most states in Germany have opted for a colour-coded system where different rules are introduced – or scrapped – depending on the infection rates. For example, at weekly Covid incidences of more than 50 new cases per 100,000 people in a certain area, tests and contact restrictions could be needed in cinemas, but these rules could be dispensed with once the infection rates start to drop.

The ‘3G’ health pass rule will replace the dependence on the 7-day incidence. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Matthias Balk

In a press release announcing the changes, Baden-Württemberg said it wanted to ensure that the same rules applied across all regions and cities. 

“This simplifies Baden-Württemberg’s regulations, as they now apply uniformly throughout the state again,” it explained.

According to the governing coalition, this is just the start of the shift away from the 7-day incidence: this once crucial marker will no longer “appear as a regulatory instrument” in future, they said. 

But not everyone will be happy with the move – especially those who have chosen not to get jabbed and must now face the prospect of regular Covid tests in order to enjoy leisure activities, eating out, or holidays in the picturesque state. 

Antigen or PCR?

Severing the cord of the 7-day incidence is not the only way that Baden-Württemburg has carved out its own style of Covid regulations for autumn. 

The state will also be tightening the rules on the unvaccinated so that, in some cases, people who don’t want a Covid shot will have to present a more accurate (and expensive) PCR test to enter a venue.

The rule – which applies to nightclubs, among other places – means that people without proof of vaccination or recovery will have to pay out of their own pocket for a PCR test at their doctor’s surgery or local testing centre.

Depending on the provider and how quickly the results are returned, this cost of this type of test can range from around €40 to more than €100.

READ ALSO: Four things to know about Germany’s paid-for Covid tests

On October 11th, Germany plans to get rid of its taxpayer-funded antigen tests and will instead make people who choose not to get vaccinated bear the costs themselves. 

With its rules around PCR tests, however, Baden-Württemburg is essentially bringing paid-for tests forward by a number of weeks – since PCR tests are only free for people who have Covid symptoms.

The move is being seen as a template for other states, with other states, such as Hesse and North Rhine-Westphalia, also following in Baden-Württemburg’s footsteps. 

Complaints from club owners

As the health pass system is introduced, club owners consider themselves to be among the most affected by the new rules.

According to the latest legislation, clubbers will need to wear a medical mask at all times inside the venue, including on the dance floor – though they are allowed to remove it momentarily to take a brief slurp of their drink.

Responding to the news, the state’s club owners questioned the practicalities of enforcing the rules in a packed-out club throughout the night.

Club owners have questioned how they can enforce the mask-wearing rule among guests in the early hours of the morning. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/AP | Alberto Pezzali

Colyn Heinze of Club Kollektiv, the Stuttgart scene’s lobby group, told Welt that Baden-Württemberg was trying to present itself as a “defender of freedom” as the first federal state to abandon the incidence limit. However, a review of the small print painted a different picture, he said.

Also speaking to Welt, Alexander Scholz from the club Perkins Park claimed that that the mask-wearing rule would be impossible to enforce, since nobody could afford employ so many police officers or bouncers. 

Since there are no restrictions at all on private gatherings in the state, people would simply choose to organise their own parties, he added.

Other states could follow suit

Baden-Württemberg may be the first state to have moved away from the 7-day incidence of infections, but it’s unlikely to be the last. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How Germany aims to increase vaccinations and control the Covid fourth wave

As states prepare and pass their legislation in the run up to the August 23rd deadline when the health pass will be introduced nationwide, neighbouring states like Hesse and North Rhine-Westphalia look likely to follow Baden-Württemberg’s lead – and others could join them over the coming weeks. 

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For members


Masks and no lockdowns: Germany’s new Covid plan from autumn to Easter

Germany has unveiled a draft of new Covid laws to run until April next year, with mask mandates set to remain in force, but lockdowns and school closures ruled out. Here's what we know so far.

Masks and no lockdowns: Germany's new Covid plan from autumn to Easter

The German government has prepared a graduated plan to try and limit the spread of Covid-19 this autumn. Under the new draft Infection Protection Act, states will be allowed to put in place certain rules to protect the population against Covid, from October. 

It was unveiled by the Health Ministry and Justice Ministry on Wednesday. 

Among the plans are for masks to remain compulsory in long-distance transport and in hospitals. They could also be made compulsory in other indoor areas, such as restaurants, but usually with exceptions for those who are recently vaccinated, recovered or tested. 

“If the number of cases rises sharply – masks (can also be enforced) outdoors where distances are not sufficient, and upper limits indoors,” said Health Minister Karl Lauterbach, of the Social Democrats, in a tweet where he showcased the plans. 

How long will the law be in place?

The current Infection Protection Act runs out on September 23rd. The new laws, which form the legal basis for Covid-19 measures in Germany, will apply from October 1st to April 7th 2023.

READ ALSO: Masks and tests: The Covid rules that tourists to Germany should know about

What are the draft plans?

As shown above in the diagram tweeted by the Health Minister in German, the rules have been divided into “”winter tyres” (Winterreifen)  and “snow chains” (Schneeketten), which is meant to represent possible different stages.

There are rules that will apply to the whole of Germany during the autumn/winter and early spring, certain measures that states can bring in, and the option for tougher restrictions if the situation worsens.

Nationwide protective measures from October 1st 2022 to April 7th 2023:

– Mandatory FFP2 masks on airplanes and on long-distance public transport.

– Mandatory masks and testing for access to hospitals and similar facilities, as well as for employees.

– Exceptions to the requirement to provide proof of testing are envisaged for recently vaccinated and recovered people, as well as for people who are being treated in the respective facilities or service providers.

– Exemptions from the mask requirement are provided for some people receiving treatment, for children under six, for people who can’t wear a mask for medical reasons, and for deaf and hard of hearing people.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach wears an FFP2 mask at a conference in June.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach wears an FFP2 mask at a conference in June. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

Optional tougher measures for states:

Under the draft plan, states can take additional measures if the pandemic situation requires. These include:

– Mandatory masks on public and regional transport.

– Mandatory masks in indoor spaces such as restaurants and cultural facilities. However, the plans envisage exceptions for people who have tested negatively against Covid, or who have been vaccinated or recently recovered. This could mean that the so-called ‘3G rule’ returns.

– Compulsory testing and/or masks in certain communal facilities (such as shelters for asylum seekers and children’s homes). Compulsory masks in schools would only apply to pupils from the fifth school year onwards.

Extreme measures when situation is critical:

State parliaments can enact even stricter measures if there is a threat of the health system or critical infrastructure becoming overburdened. These include:

– Compulsory wearing of masks indoors – and even outdoors if the minimum distance of 1.5 metre cannot be maintained. An exemption for recently vaccinated, tested or recovered people wouldn’t apply. 

– Mandatory health and safety plans (such as disinfectants and ventilation) for businesses and events in the recreational, cultural and sports sectors.

– Ordering a minimum distance of 1.5 m in public spaces and at outdoor events.

– Upper limits for participants at events in indoor areas.

What else should I know?

Justice Minister Marco Buschmann, of the Free Democrats, said it was important that Germany would not see further lockdowns, but that masks were a key part of the plan. 

“There should only be restrictions on freedom if they are necessary,” said Buschmann. “Our concept therefore rejects lockdowns and curfews.

“Instead, we rely on measures that are both effective and reasonable. Masks protect. And in certain situations, mandatory masks are also reasonable.

Justice Minister Marco Buschmann (FDP)

Justice Minister Marco Buschmann (FDP) gives an interview to DPA on February 3rd. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler

“That is why masks will be compulsory in hospitals and nursing homes as well as in long-distance transport. If the pandemic situation so requires, the states can also order compulsory masks for other areas of public life indoors. In culture, leisure, sport and gastronomy, however, there must be exceptions for tested, newly vaccinated and newly recovered persons.”

Buschmann said Germany was also relying on “individual responsibility of civil society – as most other European states do”.

He added that the government was paying “special attention” to schools.

“Children have a right to school education, and a school day that is as carefree as possible,” he said. “Therefore, there must be no school closures. A blanket obligation to wear masks in schools would also not be appropriate.”

What happens next?

The Cabinet will take a look at the proposals before the final draft goes to the Bundestag to be voted on.