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COVID-19

Germany eyes tougher Covid restrictions as infection rate soars

Germany's incoming coalition parties unveiled fresh proposals on Monday to fight the country's Covid resurgence, as the weekly rate of new coronavirus infections hit an all-time high.

A Covid information sign in Ingolstadt, Bavaria.
A Covid information sign in Ingolstadt, Bavaria. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Matthias Balk

Germany registered an incidence rate of 201.1 new cases per 100,000 people over the past seven days, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) said, surpassing the previous record of 197.6 reached on December 22nd, 2020.

The surge in cases, blamed on the nation’s relatively low vaccination rate, has prompted widespread alarm in recent weeks as hospital beds fill up rapidly.

Underlining the urgency, the three parties striving to form Germany’s next coalition government following September’s general election presented a raft of pandemic-fighting proposals  – despite not officially being in power yet.

The Social Democrats, the Greens and the liberal FDP released draft legislation that will give Germany’s 16 regional states a legal framework to tame the fourth wave of the pandemic.

The goal is “to protect as many people as possible during the autumn and winter months,” said Dirk Wiese, deputy leader of the Social Democrats’ parliamentary group.

The plan includes the possibility to exclude unvaccinated people from some indoor events, stricter prevention measures in the workplace, and the option of requiring PCR tests instead of rapid tests.

The incoming coalition partners also want to reintroduce free coronavirus testing, after it was dropped last month as it failed to spur enough unvaccinated people to get the jab.

The proposals will be discussed by the lower house of parliament this week and are slated to take effect from the end of November.

READ ALSO: Will Germany bring back free rapid Covid tests amid infection surge?

Curbs on unvaccinated

The three parties which aim to have a new government installed next month – with Olaf Scholz replacing Angela Merkel as chancellor – have however ruled out mandatory jabs or nationwide lockdowns.

The coronavirus vaccination rate in the EU’s most populous country has stagnated at under 70 percent, despite official pleas for more citizens to get the jab.

The eastern state of Saxony, where the incidence rate is more than twice the national average at 491.3, on Monday introduced the nation’s toughest restrictions yet for unvaccinated people.

READ ALSO: German states order tougher Covid rules to fight fourth wave

Access to indoor dining and other indoor events will be limited to those who are fully vaccinated or can show proof of recovery, a system known as “2G” in Germany.

Only children as well as those who cannot receive jabs for medical reasons will be exempt.

Several other states including Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria and Hesse are also adopting tougher curbs.

Germans are also closely watching Austria, where the start of 2G rules has lled to queues outside vaccination centres.

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COVID-19 RULES

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

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