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COVID-19

Calls grow for Germany to bring in national restrictions for unvaccinated

Several leading politicians and doctors have thrown their weight behind a move to bring in '2G' entry requirements across Germany, something that would effectively ban unvaccinated people from much of public life.

2G entry rules in Dresden.
2G entry rules at a bar in Dresden. Photo: dpa-Zentralbild | Robert Michael

“We now need clear rules to break the chain of infections,” Klaus Reinhardt, head of the German Medical Association, told the Passauer Neue Presse on Saturday.

“Visits to restaurants, events or cinemas, for example, should now only be reserved for those who have recovered and those who have been vaccinated,” he added.

SPD health expert Karl Lauterbach said that the 2G rule, which only permits entry to vaccinated (geimpft) and recovered (genesen) people, should “take effect in all areas that are not necessary for daily needs, such as grocery stores or drugstores.”

The calls for such a move come after Austria announced a nationwide 2G rule on Friday. Austrians without vaccinations will no longer be allowed to enter bars or hairdressers or attend events starting on Monday.

In Germany, the eastern state of Saxony will be the first state to implement the 2G rule across the board in parts of public life from Monday.

Only people who have recovered and have been vaccinated will have access to indoor restaurants, clubs, and leisure and cultural facilities. Major events such as sport in stadiums are also affected, but not retail outlets or religious services.

Reinhardt of the German Medical Association said that politicians should also consider bringing in lockdowns for the unvaccinated.

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“If it is a matter of securing inpatient care, I think that is justified. After all, it is currently mainly the unvaccinated who have to be treated with severe Covid in hospitals,” Reinhardt said.

Bavarian leader Markus Söder has called for 3G rules in the workplace, something that would mean unvaccinated people would need a negative test in order to enter their workplace.

“There needs to be mandatory 3G in the workplace throughout Germany,” the CSU leader told the Funke Mediengruppe newspapers on  Saturday.

“Employers must also have the right to ask whether employees are vaccinated or have taken a test,” Söder said.

More testing for vaccinated

Söder also said that rapid testing should be made free of charge once again.

“Unfortunately, the introduction of mandatory costs for tests has hardly increased people’s willingness to get a vaccine,” the CSU leader said. “Even vaccinated people must have the opportunity to be tested without financial expense.” 

Public health officials in Germany are pushing for a significant expansion of rapid tests for vaccinated people.

“The higher the incidence of cases now becomes, the more necessary it is that vaccinated people are also tested in addition to the unvaccinated,” Ute Teichert, head of the Federal Association of Public Health Service Physicians, told the Funke-Zeitungen.

“Anyone who is vaccinated can still carry the virus and pass it on, even if they don’t fall ill themselves,” she said.

The spread of the coronavirus through Germany has accelerated rapidly recently.

Health offices have reported record levels of new infections, with the seven-day incidence rising to 183.7 cases per 100,000 people, according to data released Saturday morning by the Robert Koch Institute.

In the fight against the fourth wave, federal and state health ministers on Friday agreed to bring in booster vaccinations six months after the second shot, mandatory testing in nursing homes, and tighter controls on entry rules, among other measures.

Lauterbach of the SPD advised against major Christmas and carnival celebrations in view of the rise in cases.

“It is important that people become more cautious,” he told the Rheinische Post newspaper. “This includes avoiding indoor Christmas parties if possible, celebrating in smaller groups at Christmas, and not going to carnivals.”

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COVID-19 RULES

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

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