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COVID-19

German states move to bar unvaccinated people from public spaces

On Wednesday, numerous German states including North Rhine-Westphalia, Baden-Württemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate and Bavaria brought in wide-ranging '2G' rules that will see unvaccinated people shut out of many areas of public life.

Düsseldorf Christmas market
Two men walk through the Christmas market in Düsseldorf, which has opened under 2G rules. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Mona Wenisch

In North Rhine-Westphalia, 2G rules have come into effect across the board. As of Wednesday, people must show either proof of vaccination or proof of recovery in order to enter public indoor venues like restaurants, bars, libraries and gyms or the indoor sections of Christmas markets.

To gain access to events or venues with a higher risk of infection – such as clubs or carnivals – the western German state has introduced a rule known as ‘2G plus’. Under this system, even vaccinated and recovered people must also present a current negative test before they are allowed to enter.

With European regulators expected to approve Covid vaccinations for children aged five to eleven later this week, North Rhine-Westphalia has also announced that it is making preparations to vaccinate children once Germany’s stock of lower-dosed vaccines are dispensed on December 20th. 

In neighbouring Baden-Württemberg, 2G rules have also come into force, while vaccinated and recovered people will require an additional negative test at events and nightlife venues likes bars and clubs.

In addition, unvaccinated people in Covid hotspots will only be allowed to go outside at night with a valid reason and will no longer have access to most shops – though shopping for food at supermarkets and grocery stores is allowed. 

The moves comes as states across Germany introduce tough curbs on people who haven’t yet been immunised against Covid. The eastern state of Saxony, which currently has the highest infection rates in the country, has recently gone into a partial lockdown with Christmas market cancellations, 2G entry rules and nighttime curfews for the unvaccinated. 

READ ALSO: German states impose Covid curfews amid soaring cases

Amid soaring infection rates along the Austrian border, Bavaria has also instigated a partial lockdown in which bars and clubs will be closed and Christmas markets will be cancelled.

In areas with 7-day incidences of more than 1,000 cases per 100,000 people, restaurants, hotels, sports and cultural venues will also be forced to shut their doors, while elsewhere restaurants will close at 10pm each evening. 

In addition, the state has introduced the 2G rule everywhere except in retail, and 2G plus applies in many cultural and leisure facilities. Contact restrictions have also returned for the unvaccinated, with only up to five unjabbed people from a maximum of two households allowed to meet at one time. 

Augsburg
Augsburg stands empty in the morning fog. Bars and clubs are closed across Bavaria, while restaurants are subject to restricted opening hours. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Karl-Josef Hildenbrand

READ ALSO: Bar closures and no Christmas markets: How Bavaria is tightening Covid rules

Meanwhile, Brandenburg – the state surrounding Berlin – has extended its 2G entry rules to the retail sector, with the exception of supermarkets and other shops for daily needs. Its famous Christmas markets in picturesque towns like Potsdam will be cancelled, while strict contact restrictions will be imposed on the unvaccinated.

Meanwhile, far-reaching 2G rules will apply in Rhineland-Palatinate, Lower Saxony, Schleswig-Holstein and Saxony-Anhalt, meaning unvaccinated people in these states will be shut out of most indoor public spaces. 

Infection Protection Act comes into force

As weekly Covid cases rise above 400 per 100,000 for the first time in Germany, sweeping changes are being introduced on a national as well as a state level.

From Wednesday, only employees who have been vaccinated, recovered or tested (3G) will have access to their workplace, while passengers on public transport will also be expected to follow the 3G rules.

Employers will also be obliged to offer employees the chance to work from home where possible, while employees will be obligated to take up the offer. 

READ ALSO: 

The amended Infection Protection Act, which provides for these new measures, is to be evaluated and, if necessary, tightened up as early as December 9th when the state and federal governments meet for a round table. 

Though the meeting is just over two weeks away, Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) has called for it to be brought forward as the country struggles to cope with surging deaths and hospitalisations.

“We will have to act earlier,” Spahn told the Rheinische Post on Wednesday. “After all, we see that in Saxony, Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg and Thuringia the situation is very serious. We will probably have to transfer patients on a large scale within Germany for the first time.”

Asked if he would rule out a partial lockdown, Spahn said, “You shouldn’t rule anything out in this situation, as bitter as it is.”

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COVID-19 RULES

Bavaria pushes for stricter Covid regulations in autumn

Health ministers across Germany's 16 states are debating the government's new Covid plan - and politicians in Bavaria say they want more clarity.

Bavaria pushes for stricter Covid regulations in autumn

On Tuesday, federal and state health ministers planned to discuss the Covid protection proposals for autumn and winter presented last week by Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) and Justice Minister Marco Buschmann (FDP).

However, some states and politicians are not satisfied with the plans. 

Under the proposals, masks will remain mandatory in air and long-distance transport, as well as clinics, nationwide. But federal states will be able to choose themselves whether to introduce further measures like mandatory masks on public and regional transport.

States will also have the power to take tougher Covid measures if the situation calls for it, such as mandatory masks indoors, but lockdowns and school closures have been ruled out. 

READ ALSO Masks and no lockdowns: Germany’s new Covid plan from autumn to Easter

The draft law states that there can be exceptions from wearing masks in indoor spaces, such as restaurants, for recently Covid-vaccinated or recovered people. 

But Bavaria’s health minister Klaus Holetschek (CSU) told DPA that these planned exemptions were not justified because vaccinated and recovered people can still transmit infections. “There are clear gaps in the current draft law,” said the CSU politician.

Dominik Spitzer, health policy spokesman for the FDP parliamentary group in the Bavarian state parliament, also questioned this exception, saying the rules “simply made no sense”.

“With the current virus variant, that would be impossible to convey, since even vaccinated people can continue to carry the virus,” the FDP politician told Bavarian broadcaster BR24. 

The coalition government’s graduated plan under the new Infection Protection Act, is set to be in force from October 1st until April 7th next year. 

The powers for the states are a first step, “but they do not go far enough for us”, Holetschek added, while calling for some points to be tightened up. “We need strong guidelines for autumn and winter.”

Holetschek said the government needed to tighten up the criteria with which states can adopt and enforce more effective measures to protect against the spread of Covid-19.

READ ALSO: Could Germany see a ‘patchwork’ of Covid rules?

Meanwhile, CDU health politician Erwin Rüddel said Germany was on the “wrong track” and the country should find “a completely different approach” to Covid policy than it has so far.

He accused the coalition government of being in “panic mode” and said he doubted the Bundestag would pass the proposals.

“I believe, there will be significant changes (to the draft)”, he said.

But the chairperson of the doctors’ association Marburger Bund, Susanne Johna, backed the plans.

“The proposal for the new Infection Protection Act gives the states sufficient possibilities to react adequately to the infection situation,” Johna told the Rheinische Post on Tuesday.

“The states can take regionally adapted measures to protect people if the need arises. I can’t understand why this concept is being called into question right away.”

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