Germany divided over Covid restrictions for the unvaccinated

Pressure is growing on the unvaccinated in Germany as states consider bringing in so-called 2G rules. Could the restrictions convince people to get vaccinated? And will 2G become the norm?

Germany divided over Covid restrictions for the unvaccinated
A sign shows 2G rules for entry to the Theater am Aegi in Hanover. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Julian Stratenschulte

As the fourth wave gathered pace in Germany, Saxony became the first state to introduce mandatory 2G rules – effectively excluding people who are eligible for vaccination but choose not to get it – from many areas of public life. 

Since Monday, only the fully vaccinated, and people who’ve recovered from Covid-19 in the last six months, are allowed to dine indoor in restaurants, and visit bars or clubs.

There is no longer the option for unvaccinated people to show a negative Covid test to enter many indoor public spaces.

Not everyone is happy about this – including some businesses who don’t want to turn away customers. But Saxony will not be alone. Millions of people in Germany will soon have to be prepared to present their vaccination certificates much more in everyday life – or face being shown the door.

2G regulations are also on the agenda in other federal states such as Berlin, Brandenburg, Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria. In some hard-hit districts in these areas, 2G is already in force. 

So far, some German states have allowed individual businesses to choose 2G as an option rather than a mandatory rule. 


Why is Germany panicking?

Germany’s Covid rate reached a new high on Tuesday with 213.7 infections per 100,000 people. Meanwhile, 21,832 Covid infections were logged within 24 hours, as well as 169 Covid-related deaths. 

Hospitalisations are still well below previous peaks, with just under 4 Covid-19 patients per 100,000 residents in intensive care units. But doctors say hospitals are filling up in badly affected areas.

On Monday, the incoming German government put together a draft plan on Covid restrictions which included the possibility to exclude unvaccinated people from some indoor events, reintroducing free Covid tests, stricter prevention measures in the workplace (3G rules), and the option of requiring PCR tests instead of rapid tests.

A Covid-19 test centre in Hanover, Lower Saxony.
A Covid-19 test centre in Hanover, Lower Saxony. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Julian Stratenschulte

But some people say the proposals don’t go far enough. 

The German Association of Cities, for instance, said the paper was a missed opportunity to introduce the 2G rule in the leisure sector nationwide.

“Without a vaccination, going to the fitness centre, club or cinema should be taboo,” chairman Helmut Dedy told the newspapers of the Funke-Mediengruppe on Tuesday.

He also said Germany needed to hold crisis talks.

“Instead of talking for days about the option of a federal-state roundtable, perhaps we should have one and jointly agree on a strategy for the near future,” he said.

Saxony’s state premier Michael Kretschmer (CDU), who has also called for emergency Covid talks, defended the tough 2G restrictions on the unvaccinated in the eastern state, saying they are an ’emergency brake’ to avert the worst outcome – a lockdown on shops and the hospitality industry.

Saxony has the lowest vaccination rate in Germany, and the highest number of Covid-19 cases. 

But experts and politicians are divided on whether – and how – 2G works. Some believe the rule could even be harmful.

“From a medical point of view, the 2G option is basically understandable,” the head of the National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians, Andreas Gassen, told DPA. But it is difficult to implement, he said. “Moreover, a mandatory introduction raises, above all, constitutional and socio-political questions that cannot be answered by medical professionals.”

Alternative for Germany (AfD) leader Tino Chrupalla told Phoenix radio that the move to 2G was “catastrophic” and will lead to social division.

Some experts have other doubts. 2G gives a “false sense of security”, virologist Jonas Schmidt-Chanasit said at the weekend, adding that vaccinated people can become infected and pass on the virus. Real safety is only provided by tests on everyone, whether vaccinated, unvaccinated or recovered, said Schmidt-Chanasit, calling this 1G.

READ ALSO: National 2G rules would be a mistake, top German virologists warn

Can 2G encourage vaccinations?

Germany’s vaccination rate is currently hovering at around 67 percent – behind most other European countries. 

Health experts have raised concerns that many unvaccinated people will get Covid during the winter. 

“My biggest concern is that there are still too many unvaccinated people in Germany,” Dr Günther Schönrich, deputy director of the Institute of Virology at the Charité Berlin, told DW on Tuesday. 

“About 67 percent of the population is fully vaccinated and that is really not enough. In the months to come we will see many of those who are not vaccinated in the clinics.

“They will be admitted to the clinic and some will have to be treated in the ICU. We have to somehow reach the unvaccinated and convince them they have to be vaccinated for their own safety and to protect others.”

He believes that without more people getting vaccinated, the country “won’t be able to break the fourth wave”.

German politicians and scientists have been discussing for months ways to convince vaccine-hesitant people, with no real success. 

Now initial reports show that the 2G debate in Germany may be convincing some people to get their jabs. Vaccination numbers are beginning to go up – even in Saxony, reported DPA.

Demand is also rising in Baden-Württemberg, Berlin, Lower Saxony and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. In the northern state, the Greifswald vaccination centre said it has been “completely overrun for days”.

The rising number of Covid cases everywhere is certainly contributing to this, but 2G is also increasing the pressure. “In individual feedback, the increasing use of 2G is cited as a reason for the vaccination decision,” reported the spokesperson of Nordwestmecklenburg, Christoph Wohlleben.

Member comments

  1. I personally do not wish to be around an unvaccinated person (without known health issues who can be vaccinated).

    I have a much higher chance of getting a potentially severe dose of Covid from them vs from a vaccinated person.

    Why should vaccinated people be limited in every day life because of the so-called “rights” of people choosing to only focus on themselves?

    1. So you want to force other people to have a potentially dangerous medical procedure to protect you, and somehow you think it’s they who are selfish??

      You are the selfish one. You don’t get to strip people of their rights just because you are terrified of a virus with a 99.8% survival rate (without vaccine). If you are vaccinated and you believe they work, then why do you care if others are vaccinated? You take care of your medical care and others should be responsible for their own.

      If you don’t believe that people have “so-called rights” over what goes into their own body, precisely what rights are you not prepared to strip from a person? Where is the limiting principle?

      I think you need to stop and think about where this is all going. Germany has been down this road before: discriminating against another section of the population made unpopular by media and government propaganda.

      Stop this madness and start thinking rationally. You do not have a higher chance of being infected by the unvaccinated. Both vaxed and unvaxed carry equal viral loads and are, therefore, equally infectious. However, the vaccinated may display lesser symptoms and so may not be aware they are infectious; particularly since they are tested much less. The entire basis for vaccine passports and forced/coerced vaccinations is built on the falsehood that it protects others: It does NOT. Even if you ignore the individual rights of others, these policies still make no sense.

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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