German states tighten measures as Covid cases rise

Baden-Württemberg will introduce a tougher regime of Covid rules from Wednesday as its warning system switches to red, while other hard-hit German states are considering similar moves.

Advert for PCR tests in Stuttgart, Germany
A sign in Stuttgart's shopping mile advertises Covid PCR tests. From Wednesday, Baden-Württemberg will require that unvaccinated people show a negative PCR test to access indoor venues. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christoph Schmidt

The southwestern state had opted for a traffic light warning system in which tighter rules come into force when the state exceeds a certain threshold of hospitalisations or infections.

In this case, the new framework is triggered when there are 250 or more Covid patients in intensive care beds for two days in a row, or when eight out of 100,000 Baden-Württemberg residents are hospitalised with Covid symptoms within five days. 

As of Wednesday, 284 Covid patients were being treated in intensive care in the state. 

That means that new entry rules to public spaces and events automatically apply, alongside tighter contact restrictions for the unvaccinated.

As opposed to the 3G rule, which allows entry to people who can prove they are vaccinated (geimpft), recovered (genesen) or can show a negative rapid test (getestet), indoor facilities in the state will switch to the so-called 3G-plus.

This 3G-plus rule still allows unvaccinated people to gain entry with a test, but instead of a rapid test, they will have to present a pricier – and more accurate – PCR test.

For those who have opted out of vaccination, contact restrictions will also be returning.

According to the latest data from Germany’s Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the 7-day incidence of Covid infections per 100,000 people in Baden-Württemberg stood at 167.5 on Wednesday as the state recorded 1,683 new infections and 19 deaths within a day

Among the unvaccinated, the monthly incidence of Covid hospitalisations per 100,000 people was 40. For vaccinated people, it was 7 in every 100,000 people.

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

Bavaria and Saxony

In addition to Baden-Württemburg, a number of other states including Bavaria and Saxony are also weighing up tighter rules for the autumn and winter.

Next Monday, Saxony’s government plans to introduce compulsory 2G in indoor venues, in addition to keeping social distancing and mask-wearing requirements indoors. In addition, the 2G entry policy will apply to large outdoor events such as football matches, and private contact restrictions will once again come into force.

Bavaria’s state government will be meeting on Wednesday to decide whether a state-wide 2G rule excluding unvaccinated people from public indoor spaces should come into force.

Due to the high infection rates in some regions of the state, a number of municipalities have already introduced this rule, which is also favoured by state premier Markus Söder (CDU). 

In Bavaria, the incidence of Covid infections has surged to 228 per 100,000 people, while Saxony has a weekly Covid incidence of 289 infections per 100,000 people. 

In both states, a handful of regions are seeing incidences of over 400. 

In the state of Hesse, government ministers are due to announce new measures in the coming days, while Berlin is reportedly planning an emergency meeting next Tuesday to decide on a switch to tougher 2G rules. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How German states are tightening Covid rules for winter

Highest number of deaths since May 

The 7-day incidence of Covid infections per 100,000 people has dropped for the second day in a row in Germany to 147 from 154. 

But data experts say this paints a misleading picture of the situation.

Due to some German states having a public holiday on Monday, there are thought to be delays in reporting of cases. However, experts note that cases have dropped slightly in the city state of Hamburg, which didn’t have a Monday holiday.

On Wednesday, Germany’s local health authorities reported 20,398 new Covid cases and 194 Covid-related deaths within 24 hours.

This is the highest number of daily fatalities since May 28th this year. 

READ ALSO: Why are Covid infections in Germany rising?

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Bavaria signals end to compulsory masks on public transport

Bavaria's state premier Markus Söder (CSU) has announced plans for a "prompt" end to mandatory masks on buses and trains.

Bavaria signals end to compulsory masks on public transport

If infection levels and hospitalisations remain low, the end of the mask-wearing rule could come as soon as December or January.

“We are convinced that the mask requirement in public transport could also be phased out either in mid-December or early next year, if the numbers remain reasonably stable and there are no new mutations,” Söder explained on Monday, following a meeting with the CSU executive committee. 

A decision on when to end the measure would be made “promptly”, he added.

The CSU politician had said last week that the sinking infection rates meant that compulsory masks were no longer appropriate and that the mandate could be changed to a recommendation. 

No set date for change

The latest version of Bavaria’s Infection Protection Act – which lays out an obligation to wear masks on public transport as one of the few remaining Covid rules – is currently due to expire on December 9th.

State ministers could decide whether to let obligatory masks on buses and trains lapse on this date as early as next week, or they could decide to initially extend the legislation and set an alternative date for ending the rule.

Regardless of their decision, FFP2 masks will continue to be mandatory on long-distance public transport until at least April next year, when the nationwide Infection Protection Act is due to expire.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Germany’s new Covid-19 rules from October

Speaking to Süddeutsche Zeitung on Monday after the meeting of the Council of Ministers, Florian Herrmann (CSU), head of the State Chancellery, confirmed that Covid-19 had been discussed in passing.

However, no decisions or discussions were made on how to proceed after the expiry of the regulation, he said.

According to Herrmann, the fact that Covid was no longer the “dominant topic” in the cabinet under “enormous tension” shows “that we are returning to normality” in a gradual transition from pandemic to endemic. 

As of Wednesday, the 7-day incidence of Covid infections per 100,000 people stood at 108 in Bavaria, down from 111 the previous day. However, experts have cast doubt on how meaningful the incidence is in light of the fact that fewer people are taking tests.

Nevertheless, the 133 hospital beds occupied by Covid patients in the Free State falls well below the 600 threshold for a ‘red alert’. With Omicron causing less severe courses of illness than previous variants, politicians have increasingly focussed on hospitalisation statistics to gauge the severity of the situation.

‘A risk-benefit trade-off’

Bavaria is the second federal state to announce plans to relax its mask-wearing rules in recent weeks.

On November 14th, the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein announced that it would be ending obligatory FFP2 masks on public transport and urged other states to do the same. From January 2023, masks on public transport will only be recommended rather than mandated for passengers on local buses and trains. 

However, the Federal Ministry of Health has urged states not to loosen their rules too quickly.

Given that infection rates are likely to spike again in winter, “there’s no basis for loosening restrictions”, said Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD).

Physicians are also split on whether an end to masks on public transport is appropriate.

READ ALSO: Will Germany get rid of masks on public transport?

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) speaks at the German Hospital Day in Düsseldorf on November 14th. Lauterbach is against the lifting of the mask-wearing rule. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Roberto Pfeil

Christoph Spinner, a virologist at the University Hospital in Munich, told Süddeutsche Zeitung he believed it was time to put the decision on mask-wearing back into the hands of individuals.

“Why not? The incidences are low, the danger of Covid-19 has dropped significantly and mortality has also decreased,” he said. 

But the Bavarian General Practitioners’ Association spoke out against the move, arguing that – unlike a trip to a restaurant or cinema – people often have no choice but to travel on public transport.

“If the obligation to wear a mask in public transport is maintained, this will help to protect against a Covid infection on the way to work by bus or train – especially in view of the discontinuation of the obligation to isolate in the event of a Covid infection,” they explained.

Bavaria is one of four states to have recently ended mandatory isolation for people who test positive for Covid. Baden-Württemberg and Schleswig-Holstein both scrapped their isolation mandate last week, while Hesse removed its obligation on Tuesday. 

READ ALSO: Four German states call for end to mandatory Covid isolation