German state of North Rhine-Westphalia relaxes Covid testing rules

German state of North Rhine-Westphalia relaxes Covid testing rules
Crowds gather to watch a performance in Club Bahnhof, Cologne. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Henning Kaise
In light of falling infection rates, the western German state of North Rhine-Westphalia has loosened its Covid restrictions and made key changes to testing rules. Here's what you need to know.

North Rhine-Westphalia’s Covid infections have been dropping in recent weeks, with the 7-day incidence of Covid infections now standing at 53.9 per 100,000 people.

In light of the falling infection rates, the state health ministry has opted to introduce relaxed rules on testing to enter certain venues, and also simpler rules on mask-wearing, eating out and attending sports events. 

Here are the new rules that will come into force on October 1st:

  • Rapid tests instead of PCR tests

For people who aren’t vaccinated against or recovered from Covid, a PCR test has until now been required to enter venues that are seen as higher risk, like nightclubs and brothels. From October 1st, however, people will be able to opt for a rapid test instead – as long as this is done professionally at a testing centre and is no more than six hours old.

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People can also continue to use antigen tests to enter other public indoor spaces, like gyms, hairdressers and bars, as well as events like conferences or sports matches. In these cases, the test must be no more than 48 hours hold.

As in the rest of Germany, from October 11th people will have to pay for rapid tests out of their own pockets, but they tend to be a fair bit cheaper than PCR tests, so the change could make a night out a little less expensive for the unvaccinated.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Who will still get free Covid tests in Germany from October?

  • No masks outdoors

While wearing a mask generally wasn’t required outdoors, people standing in queues or at sales stands, cashier areas and similar service counters, as well as at sports, cultural and other outdoor events with more than 2,500 visitors, were obliged to wear a mask. As of Friday, this will no longer be the case, though the state government says it’s “recommended” if you’re within 1.5 metres of somebody else.

  • No upper limit for big events

For large events like football matches and music festivals, the absolute upper limit of 25,000 spectators will be dropped completely – and for outdoor events, stadiums won’t have to halve their audiences to make sure they’re only at 50 percent capacity. From Friday, organisers can fill their venues entirely – as long as they ensure that masks are worn when people aren’t in their seats.

  • No special spacing or screens in restaurants

Restaurant owners won’t be legally required to put up plastic barriers between customers or space out tables and chairs in a particular way. Nevertheless, the state health ministry still says it’s advisable to do so – and customers still need to wear masks when they’re not in their seats.

‘Steps towards normality”

Announcing the changes, Karl-Josef Laumann, North Rhine-Westphalia’s state health minister, said the combination of dropping infections and rising vaccinations had enabled him to loosen restrictions.

“The pandemic is not over yet and we will have to monitor further developments very closely,” he said. “But the current infection figures and the progress in vaccinations enable us to take further steps towards normality. At the same time, I appeal to citizens to continue to use the freedoms they have regained responsibly.”

READ ALSO: What’s behind the falling Covid cases in Germany?

According to the health ministry, over 40 percent of children and young people aged 12 to 17 in North Rhine-Westphalia are already fully vaccinated, compared to 33.7 percent in the country as a whole. Overall, just over 67 percent of people in North Rhine-Westphalia are fully vaccinated, compared to 64.3 percent throughout Germany.


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