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EXPLAINED: The Covid rules you need to know for the new German school term

Children in over a third of the German states are going back to school this week. But the school year 2021/22 is going to be hit by further pandemic restrictions. Here’s the rules in the various states.

EXPLAINED: The Covid rules you need to know for the new German school term
Children at school in Münster. Photo: dpa | Guido Kirchner

The start of the school year is a stressful time for parents and a nervous time for children.

On the first day of school in a normal German school year, children starting the first year of Grundschule will head off carrying a Schultüte, while older siblings will be hoping that they haven’t forgotten too much over the holidays.

This year though there will be an added level of stress, as all of the German states have put further restrictions in place in the classroom which are aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

School starts in Saarland, Rhineland-Palatinate, Lower Saxony, Bremen, Saxony-Anhalt and Bremen this week.

All the German states want to avoid going into distance learning, as was the case for much of the last school year.

So what rules do parents need to be aware of?


School starts in the central German state this Monday, where some 760,000 children will initially be required to observe stricter testing and mask wearing rules than those seen in the summer term.

For two ‘prevention weeks’, during which state authorities fear that children arriving back from summer holidays will pass on the virus, pupils will have to wear medical masks in the classroom and at organized events. They will also have to take antigen tests three times a week.

In the third week the mask wearing rules will be relaxed and pupils will only be required to take two tests per week.

The quarantine rules in the state have been narrowed down to pupils sitting directly next to the infected child and to immediate contact persons.

READ ALSO: How Covid vaccination rules for children differ around Europe

The south-west

In small Saarland, all children and teachers in Saarland will be required to wear medical masks at all times inside the school building and to take two antigen tests per week. The rules will initially apply for the first two weeks of the autumn term.

In Rhineland-Palatinate, too, two tests per week are planned for all children and teachers.

Fully vaccinated and recovered people are to be exempt from the rules in both states.

Lower Saxony

In Lower Saxony, where school starts again on Thursday, daily testing is mandatory for the first seven days of school – that is, until September 10th – according to the local ministry of education. 

Pupils and staff will have to ‘test themselves free’ every day before they can go to school. Those who have been vaccinated or who have recoevered from an infection will not have to take the tests.

In the event that a pupil tests positive, all the children in their class will have to go into quarantine. Those who take a test after the case occurs and have a negative result will be allowed to attend class again. 

Pupils who are fully vaccinated or recovered are not subject to the admission restriction.

Starting on September 13th, only three tests per week will be mandatory.

SEE ALSO: Why Germany is embroiled in a row over vaccinating children against Covid


In Saxony-Anhalt, where classes also begin again on Thursday, all pupils and school staff must undergo an antigen test on the first day of school, according to the Ministry of Education. 

In the two weeks that follow, tests will be given three times a week. After that, there will be a return to the previous system of two tests a week. Fully vaccinated and recovered pupils are exempt.


Children in Bremen will start the new school year on Thursday by taking daily tests. Vaccinated and recovered children are exempt from the testing requirement.

From September 6th, all secondary school pupils will test themselves twice a week with a self-test kit. 

Elementary school children will receive lollipop PCR tests for three weeks from that date. There is no compulsory mask-wearing for classes in Bremen.

If there is a positive case in a class, the entire group must be quarantined – except for those who have recovered and those who have been vaccinated. The quarantine can be ended with a negative test after ten days at the earliest.

What’s going on in states where school has already begun?

In Berlin, where school began in the second week of August, the city still has a ‘traffic light’ system that could end in children being sent into distance learning if the level is risk is assessed as ‘red’.

The situation at each school will be assessed by the local health office every Thursday. When the risk is green, the rules on indoor mask-wearing and three tests per week will apply. With yellow, however, class sizes will be halved, and with red, schools will be closed.

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

Hamburg’s school senator Ties Rabe (SPD) has called for the federal government to shorten quarantine rules for schoolchildren. 

“It is incomprehensible that children, who recover faster, still have to remain in quarantine for 14 days and also have no opportunity to test themselves for free,” Rabe told Welt am Sonntag newspaper. 

What about the states still on holiday?

Baden-Württemberg, where school does not restart until mid-September, plans to avoid whole-class quarantines. Instead, in the case of a child testing positive, all children in their class must test themselves daily for five days. 

Since teachers are also contacts, this applies to them as well. However, vaccinated and recovered pupils and teachers are exempt from the testing requirement.

Full attendance is also the goal in Bavaria for the new school year.

The southern state, where the new terms starts in the middle of the month, is yet to publish a detailed plan. But the state cabinet are meeting for discussions on the topic this Tuesday, with mask wearing in the classroom expected to be agreed upon as mandatory.

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

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

The president of the teachers' association, Heinz-Peter Meidinger, expects major restrictions in the coming school year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

'Nobody can rule out enormous fourth wave': German schools fear new Covid restrictions
Schoolchildren walk through the gates of the Robert Schumann Primary School in Hesse, where in-person teaching is set to resume after summer. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Arne Dedert

Meidinger told Welt on Wednesday that he believed hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren would have to be ordered into quarantine because of the particularly contagious Delta variant when they return to school in autumn. 

“Nobody can rule out the possibility that we will get an enormous fourth wave because of the Delta variant and the lack of vaccination coverage,” he said. “In which case, alternating lessons (in-person and online teaching) will once again be necessary.”

Around Germany, each of the federal states is responsible for setting Covid rules in schools.

In the wake of falling infection rates in June and more vaccinations, Germany had said its aim was for teaching to go back to normal after the summer holidays with classroom teaching for all after disruption throughout the pandemic.

Some state leaders had already been asking children to attend school for face-to-face lessons at full capacity – or have promised to introduce this after summer.

States such as Berlin and Bavaria are insisting that the 2021/22 school year will kick off with an “obligation to attend in person”. According to Berlin’s guidance for parents, “not wanting to be tested is not a valid reason for a child not to attend school”. 

In the view of Health Minister Jens Spahn, however, some Covid-19 measures will still be necessary after the holidays – even if infections rates stay low in autumn. These measures could include testing, masks, ventilation and alternating lessons.

READ ALSO: Masks and Covid tests should continue in Germany’s schools until 2022, say health officials

Politicians are ‘walking on thin ice’

Meidinger called on politicians to be honest about the realities of Covid-19.

“Anyone who promises now that there will definitely be full face-to-face teaching next year is walking on thin ice,” he said. “Face-to-face teaching at any price means accepting the contamination of schools. Politicians should say that honestly.”

Teachers’ Association President Heinz-Peter Meidinger believes in-person teaching could fuel a Covid fourth wave in Germany. Photo: picture alliance / Armin Weigel/dpa | Armin Weigel

Free Democratic Party (FDP) chairman Christian Lindner has argued that children tend not to be serious drivers of the pandemic, and has spoken out in favour of a full reopening alongside Covid vaccinations in schools.

After the summer holidays, schools should no longer have to be closed, Lindner told the Funke media group.

“I am in favour of vaccination programs for young people in schools,” he said. “You have to prepare for this on a large scale with mobile vaccination teams.”

In the end, students and parents would still have to decide for themselves whether they wanted a vaccination, he added.

Infections double in two weeks

The 7-day incidence of Covid-19 infections has been rising continuously for over two weeks in Germany, and has recently slipped into double-digits. According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) on Wednesday morning, the 7-day incidence was 11.4, compared with 10.9 on Tuesday.

Though still on the low side, the incidence has more than doubled since its most recent low of 4.9 on July 6th – and RKI chief Lothar Wieler believes young and unvaccinated people are disproportionately contributing to the rising numbers.

READ ALSO: Young people ‘contributing most’ to Germany’s rising Covid numbers

The number of new daily infections is also on the up, with 2,203 new infections reported nationwide, compared with 1,548 a week ago. However, the number of deaths dropped compared to a week ago –  28 Covid deaths were reported within 24 hours a week ago, and 19 this Wednesday. 

The incidence has so far been the basis for many coronavirus restrictions in the pandemic, for example as part of the federal emergency brake that expired at the end of June. In the future, other factors ​​such as hospital admissions are to be taken into account more strongly.

READ ALSO: Germany to ‘focus more on Covid hospital admissions’ when deciding measures


In-person teaching – (der) Präsenzunterricht 

Alternating lessons – (der) Wechselunterricht 

Obligation to attend – (die) Präsenzpflicht

Drivers of the pandemic – (die) Pandemie-Treiber

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