Germany’s emergency pandemic powers could end in November

A sign for an antigen Covid test in Hanover.
A sign for an antigen Covid test in Hanover. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Demy Becker
Germany's Health Minister Jens Spahn has spoken out in favour of ending the government’s emergency pandemic powers next month.

Due to Germany’s high vaccination coverage, it’s unlikely that the health system will become overloaded, Spahn said. Therefore, the emergency powers, which have allowed the government to introduce measures such as lockdowns, would not need to be extended. 

The recognition of an “epidemic situation of national relevance” is a special clause in the German constitution which overrides parliamentary checks on the executive branch. 

Spahn reportedly made the comments during a Monday meeting with state health ministers on the current Covid situation in Germany. 

He said the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) now classifies the risk for vaccinated people, and the danger of overburdening the health system, as “moderate”. The RKI has been pointing out for some time that almost all infections, and severe courses of Covid-19, occur mostly in unvaccinated people.

READ ALSO: Is Germany seeing a high number of Covid cases and hospitalisations?

Spahn said the powers would likely not have to be extended past November 25th – when they are due to expire.

“This will end a state of emergency that has existed since March 28th 2020 and thus for almost 19 months,” Spahn reportedly said.

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However, he said hygiene and distance rules should continue to be followed, as it is not yet possible to give the all-clear. That means wearing masks indoors would probably remain in place.

It’s not clear how it would affect measures such as the Covid health pass entry rules, known as 3G (for vaccinated/geimpft, recovered/genesen or tested/getestet) or 2G in Germany, depending on the state. 

SPD health expert Karl Lauterbach said he also expected some measures to remain in place even if the epidemic situation of national scope is not extended.

“No federal state would be crazy enough to forego entry restrictions to indoor areas, or to bury the mask requirement on buses and trains given the current case numbers,” Lauterbach said.

Lauterbach warned that Germany is in an uncertain period. 

“We are in a situation where the number of cases is increasing, vaccination progress is stagnating and significantly more cases are to be expected at schools in the cold months,” he said. “Nobody knows exactly what we can expect in the next four weeks, how high this wave will be.”

Bundestag to vote on final decision

The decision on whether to extend the federal government powers lies with the Bundestag.

This is stipulated in the Infection Protection Act, which has been amended several times in the course of the Covid pandemic.

According to the Act, an epidemic situation of national importance can come into force “if there is a serious danger to public health in the entire Federal Republic of Germany”.

The law also specifies concrete measures that can be taken “to prevent the spread of Covid-19” for the duration of the determination of such a situation.

At the end of August, the Bundestag voted to extend the powers until November. 

READ ALSO: Germany extends pandemic emergency powers for further three months

Covid infections have been rising slowly after a period of stagnation. A particular focus is in the south-east of Germany, where the vaccination rate is lower. The nationwide 7-day incidence on Tuesday stood at 74.4 infections per 100,000 people, rising from 72.7 the previous day.

Bavaria’s health minister Klaus Holetschek remains cautious. 

“Determining the epidemic situation is a matter for the new Bundestag,” he told DPA. “Among colleagues of the health ministers of the states we agree that – regardless of the determination of the epidemic situation – it would be important to have a uniform legal framework in order to continue to take targeted measures.”

The German Hospital Association, however, welcomed the move to phase out the powers. “I can understand the step and also consider it unproblematic,” Chief Executive Gerald Gaß told the Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland.

“I also no longer expect Covid patient numbers in hospitals to be comparably high in the autumn and winter as in the past period,” said Gaß.

READ ALSO: Why Covid cases remain high on the German border with Austria


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