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EXPLAINED: How German states are tightening Covid rules for winter

A noticeboard outside a beer garden
A noticeboard outside a beer garden in Lower Saxony indicates the use of the '2G' entry rule, which excludes unvaccinated people. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Moritz Frankenberg
German states are looking to the upcoming festive season with concern as many regions continue to see soaring infection rates. Here's where Covid rules are about to get tougher - and what to expect when they do.

Baden-Württemberg

With more than 280 people in intensive care in the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg, state governors have upgraded their warning system to red and introduced a host of new restrictions from Wednesday.

The new rules will primarily affect people who’ve had the chance to get vaccinated but have so far chosen not to. 

From Wednesday, the entry policy for indoor public venues will become stricter. Rather than ordinary 3G, which allows entry to people who can prove they are vaccinated (geimpft), recovered (genesen) or who have a rapid test (getestet), indoor facilities in the state will now switch to the so-called 3G-plus.

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This means people will have to have a more expensive PCR test to hand if they can’t prove they’re vaccinated or have recovered from Covid in the past six months. 

Swimming pools, gyms, restaurants, bars, cinemas, and other leisure facilities will all be affected by the change, though there will be exceptions for people who are unable to get vaccinated for medical reasons.

The state has also reintroduced contact restrictions for unvaccinated people. 

From Wednesday, unvaccinated households will only be allowed to meet with up to five other people at one time. This number excludes minors under 17, vaccinated and recovered people, and once again, people who can’t get vaccinated for medical reasons.

READ ALSO: German states tighten measures as Covid cases rise

Bavaria

Amid spiralling weekly incidences of Covid-19 – which in some parts of the state have now exceeded 700 per 100,000 people – Bavaria’s government met on Friday to decide whether to introduce a number of new restrictions.

The outcome of this is that the state will be sticking to a regional traffic light system with tougher rules in the worst-hit areas. When the traffic light is on amber, 3G plus – meaning vaccine passes, recovery certificates and PCR rather than antigen tests – will apply at most venues. For clubs, discos and brothels, a 2G rule applies.

When it moves up to red, however, regions will switch to 2G rule, meaning people would no longer be able to use a negative test to gain access to pubs, restaurants and other indoor venues. As is the case in Baden-Württemburg, there would be exceptions for people who are unable to get vaccinated, such as minors and those with medical conditions. There would be carveouts for hotels, restaurants and services like hairdressers and beauticians. This group of businesses would stick with 3G plus.

In light of the particularly high infection rate near the Austrian border, some regions of Bavaria have already introduced this rule. State premier Markus Söder (CSU) has also spoken out in favour of 2G in recent weeks. 

Söder tweeted to say the fourth wave was ripping through the country as a “pandemic of the unvaccinated”.

Bavaria will also be reintroducing the mask-wearing requirement for school pupils from Monday. Mandatory masks in schools were scrapped in the southern state around a month ago.

For adults, FPP2 masks will be required indoors in most cases rather than medical masks in general.

Berlin

On Tuesday, November 10th, the Berlin Senate will debate a number of new restrictions to manage the rising Covid case numbers ahead of the upcoming festive season.

“We want to enter the winter in a good position,” said governing Mayor Michael Müller (SPD). 

According to Berliner Morgenpost, the Senate is examining whether to reintroduce new limits for the amount of attendees allowed at public events such as football matches and concerts, as well as tightening up its entry rules so that 3G entry policies are replaced by 2G.

Berlin Mayor Michael Müller
Berlin Mayor Michael Müller (SPD) tells reporters that the city state wants to enter the winter in a “good position”. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Paul Zinken

This would mean that unvaccinated people would no longer be able to use a negative test to get into bars, gyms or cinemas, for example, though once again there would be exceptions for minors and others who are unable to get vaccinated. Children under the age six would be able to get into venues with no documentation, while other minors and those who are unable to get vaccinated would require a negative test instead. 

The Senate is also rumoured to be mulling over the introduction of 2G-plus for large events, which would mean that vaccinated and recovered people would also have to show a negative test. However, nothing has been confirmed as yet.

Brandenburg

No new restrictions are currently planned for the general public in Brandenburg, though in light of recent outbreaks in care homes, the state government has opted to introduce mandatory daily tests for care workers. 

Bremen

Bremen has the highest vaccination rate of anywhere in Germany, and is currently on the lowest ‘warning’ level possible: Warning Stage 0. That means that the so-called ‘3G’ rule has been removed in most places, though basic measures such as mandatory masks on public transport and social distancing are still in place.

Hamburg 

Covid cases have been stagnating in Hamburg in recent days, and the state government doesn’t appear to be planning to toughen up its rules any time soon. At present, a 3G entry policy for most indoor venues is in place, though businesses have the option to introduce 2G if they prefer.

READ ALSO: How did Hamburg’s first ‘vaccine only’ weekend go?

Hesse

In the central German state of Hesse, where Frankfurt is located, the state government is currently in the process of debating a range of new Covid-related measures. A tighter set of rules is meant to be put in place when more than 200 Covid patients are in intensive care. As of Wednesday, there were 175. 

Officials reportedly met on Tuesday to discuss the new plans, though they were unable to reach an agreement within a day. On Friday, the state hit the threshold required for the state to activate its highest Covid warning level, meaning the government must now introduce stricter rules. These could include a 3G-plus rule where PCR tests are required instead of rapid tests, or widespread 2G rules that exclude unvaccinated people entirely.

A sign advertises 3G plus
A sign states that only vaccinated and recovered people and people with a negative PCR test are allowed entry to the venue. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christoph Schmidt

The government is also said to be considering reopening some of larger vaccination centres that were closed over summer in order to rapidly roll out booster jabs to vulnerable segments of the population.

READ ALSO: State by state: Germany’s Covid rules for Christmas markets

Lower Saxony

No new restrictions are being planned in Lower Saxony, though the state government has recently opted to retain the mandatory mask rule in schools amid ever worsening Covid numbers. 

Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania 

No new measures have been put on the table in the northeastern state of Mecklenburg. On October 31st, however, the state Ministry for Work and Social Affairs decided on a range of new measures to protect vulnerable people in care homes, including a booster jab campaign and mandatory masks for staff. 

North Rhine-Westphalia 

Swimming against the tide, the western German state of North Rhine-Westphalia opted to loosen its mask-wearing rules in schools from November 2nd, and doesn’t appear to be planning tighter restrictions.

However, the newly elected state premier Hendrik Wüst (CDU) has been calling for an imminent round table between the 16 state premiers and the federal government in order to decide on a unified approach to autumn and winter. 

A primary school pupil
A primary school pupil wearing a mask puts her hand up in class. Mandatory masks were scrapped in North Rhine-Westphalia this week. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Jens Büttner

Rhineland Palatinate 

In Rhineland Palatinate, which borders North Rhine-Westphalia, the state government is also taking a more relaxed approach. From November 8th, the western state will opt to loosen its restrictions by scrapping all contact restrictions in outdoor spaces.

This means that Christmas markets in particular can take place without entry controls, masks or social distancing. However, like the state of Brandenburg, Rhineland Palatinate has recently opted to introduce a daily testing requirement for staff in care homes.

As in many other states, Rhineland Palatinate also has a graded warning system in place, meaning tighter rules are likely to be put in place as Covid cases or hospitalisations rise. 

Saarland

Infection rates in the western state of Saarland have remained well below the national average over the past few weeks, though experts are claiming that this could be about to change.

Nevertheless, it looks like the state government will be sticking with its current rules for the time being, which include masks and 3G entry rules in public spaces and restrictions on large gatherings. 

Saxony-Anhalt 

The northeastern state of Saxony-Anhalt is currently battling weekly Covid incidences of almost 150 per 100,000 people, with some regions in the state seeing incidences of more than 350.

To try and gain control of the situation, the state government announced on Monday that the rules for football matches would be tightened up significantly. From mid-November, fans will be expected to present proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative test if they want to see a match in person. 

Magdeburg Christmas Market
Hundreds of people gather at Magdeburg Christmas Market. Masks will be required at crowded outdoors events like this in Saxony-Anhalt. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Klaus-Dietmar Gabbert

In addition, people will be expected to wear masks at the matches if it isn’t possible to stay at least 1.5 metres apart from other fans. The same will apply for other outdoor events where crowds tend to gather, such as at Christmas markets. 

The Covid traffic light warning system works on a regional level in Saxony-Anhalt. If municipalities exceed a 7-day incidence of 100 cases per 100,000 people, they are expected to introduce the 3G rule for restaurants, bars and other indoor public spaces. 

Saxony

For several weeks, the eastern state of Saxony has had the second highest Covid rates in the country – beaten only by neighbouring Thuringia.

To try and stem the seemingly unstoppable wave of infections, the state government announced a package of strict measures on Wednesday that are due to come into force next week.

From Monday, November 8th, leisure and cultural facilities, clubs, bars and restaurants will only allow access to people who are vaccinated or recovered from Covid-19. Before the change in rules, business owners were able to decide for themselves whether to implement 2G or stick to the more permissive 3G rule, which also allows people entry with a negative test. 

Another key change is that, even with 2G, people will be expected to continue wearing masks and socially distancing in indoor spaces. While these rules had previously applied in 3G venues, businesses who opted for 2G entry rules had until now been able to dispense with other hygiene and safety regulations. 

RB Leipzig football fans
Fans attempt to catch the ball at an RB Leipzig football match. From Monday, Saxony will exclude unvaccinated people from football matches. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Patrick Seeger

2G rules will also apply to outdoor events where more than 1,000 people are expected to gather, such as football matches and large Christmas markets. For private gatherings, unvaccinated households will only be allowed to meet up to ten other people at a time from Friday onwards – though vaccinated and people and children under 14 aren’t counted. 

In addition, Dagmar Neukirch, State Secretary in the Ministry of Social Affairs, urged employers in the state to allow their staff to work from home and recommended that businesses used the 3G entry rule in the workplace. This is marked change from the previous rules, which only required staff that had close contact with others to test once a week.

Furthermore, FPP2 masks – rather than simply medical masks – will be required on public transport in the state. 

READ ALSO: German business calls for introduction of Covid health pass in offices

Schleswig-Holstein

In the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein, where the 7-day incidence remains below the national average, no further restrictions are being planned. 

Thuringia

Like many other German states, Thuringia uses a staged warning system for implementing new Covid rules.

For the highest warning level – Level 3 – at least one of three conditions has to be met. The first is that the 7-day incidence of Covid hospitalisations must be more 12 per 100,000 people, the second is that the 7-day incidence of Covid infections must be over 200, and the third is Covid patients must be occupying more than 12 percent of intensive care beds. 

According to regional news outlet MDR, all three of these thresholds were exceeded on Tuesday.

Nevertheless, Thuringia’s regional system means that up until now it’s been up to the municipalities to respond to the spiralling infection rates – and so far only one of them has.

Furthermore, indoor gatherings will be restricted to 75 people at a time – down from 250 – and people will be expected to wear a medical mask at outdoor events where it’s impossible to socially distance. In the Eichsfeld County, 2G or 3G plus (meaning 3G rules but with PCR tests only) will apply in a number of venues from Wednesday. These include exhibitions, fairs, Christmas markets and sports and cultural events. Meanwhile, the ordinary 3G rule will apply in restaurants, swimming pools and hotels, among other places.

READ ALSO: Germany seeing a ‘massive pandemic of the unvaccinated’


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