What does Germany’s higher vaccination rate mean for winter?

According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), Germany's vaccination rate could be up to five percent higher than previously thought. What could this mean for the Health Ministry's Covid strategy over autumn and winter?

A sign advertises free Covid jabs without registration
A sign advertises free Covid jabs without registration in Hamburg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Markus Scholz

What’s going on?

On Thursday, Germany’s public health authority said they believed the current official vaccination statistics represented a “minimum vaccination rate”, adding that the real figures could be significantly higher. 

The RKI believes that, as of Tuesday, up to 84 percent of over 18s in Germany had received at least one jab, and up to 80 percent were fully vaccinated. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s Covid vaccination rate higher than official stats, says RKI

The new estimate, which is based on citizen surveys and reporting data, suggests that around 3.5 million more people have had their jabs than previously thought.

According to official reports from vaccination centres and GPs, slightly less than 80 percent of those over 18 have received their first dose, and just over 75 percent have been fully jabbed. That means that there could be around a five percent difference between previously published figures and real vaccinations.

Experts believe this is largely to do with insufficient reporting from smaller doctors’ surgeries, who were often overburdened at the height of the pandemic and unable to pass on accurate figures to the RKI. 

What will the government do with this information?

If the RKI’s new estimates are accurate, the figures are now much closer to government targets for vaccination coverage, leading some to question whether remaining restrictions could now be lifted. 

In other words, with the overwhelming majority of adults now fully jabbed, could Germany get away with having its own UK-style “Freedom Day”? 

Not just yet, says Health Minister Jens Spahn. However, the higher number of jabs does mean that his ministry won’t need to tighten up restrictions any further this winter.

German health minister Jens Spahn appears on ARD
Health Minister Jen Spahn reveals that there will no “no further Covid restrictions” this winter. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/WDR | Oliver Ziebe

“This gives us additional security for autumn and winter,” Spahn said in a statement on German broadcaster ARD on Thursday.

“Above it all, it gives us added certainty that we can dispense with AHA (social distancing) regulations and masks outside, and that with 3G – vaccinated, recovered and tested – in inside spaces and medical masks on buses and trains as measures for autumn and winter, we can easily get through this time of year.”

Looking at the present situation, he added, “no further restrictions are needed”. 

READ ALSO: Germany ‘doesn’t need a Covid exit strategy like UK’, says Health Minister

What does this mean in practice? 

In day to day life, it doesn’t look like there’ll be any major changes in Covid policy.

As Spahn made clear, the ‘3G’ rule, which stands for vaccinated (geimpft), recovered (genesen) or tested (getestet) will continue to be the standard for public indoor spaces throughout autumn and winter.

And you won’t get away with removing your mask on underground trains or buses anytime soon.

Looked at another way, however, the promise of “no further restrictions” is a world away from threats of hard lockdowns or national ‘2G’ (vaccinated or recovered only) entry policies to public spaces.  

While several states in Germany have opted to allow business owners to introduce an optional ‘2G’ rule, on a national level, ‘3G’ is currently the standard – though Spahn has previously warned that this could change if vaccination coverage does not improve and infection rates start to soar. 

With the buffer of an additional three million or so vaccinated people, it’s now highly unlikely that a national ‘2G’ rule will be brought into force, so anyone who hasn’t got their jabs yet should have a slightly easier time of it this winter. 

As Reuters reporter Riham Alkousaa pointed out on Twitter, Spahn’s statement is also good news for anyone trying to plan their Christmas festivities. 

With no further restrictions on the horizon, it’s almost certain that crowds will able to gather outdoors at Germany’s famous Weinachtsmärkte (Christmas markets) once again this December, while pubs, shops and theatres can keep their doors open for the festive season. 

If you want to visit them, though, make sure you’ve got your digital health pass or negative test to hand, since ‘3G’ isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. 

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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