Germany sets up Covid crisis team amid calls for new measures

The incoming German government has announced that it is putting together a Covid emergency response team as calls for an urgent review of current restrictions grow louder.

Walter Steinmeier and Carsten Breuer
German President Walter Steinmeier visits Carsten Breuer, commander of the Territorial Taskforce, in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bernd von Jutrczenka

According to FDP leader Christian Lindner, the newly formed crisis team could begin its work in the next few days – meaning it will start work around a week before the new coalition government takes office.

The new group, which is likely to be headed up by a military general will be responsible for assessing the Covid situation, making key decisions and coordinating the government response to the ongoing crisis.  

The decision to establish a Covid emergency team was revealed last week on Wednesday when the three ‘traffic light’ parties unveiled their new coalition agreement in a surprise press conference held at Berlin’s Westhafen. 

In the agreement, the parties promise to “reorganise the government’s crisis management” by “immediately creating a joint crisis team to better coordinate the nationwide fight against the pandemic.”

Reports in the Süddeutsche Zeitung on Monday suggest that Major General Carsten Breuer is being considered as a potential leader for the response team. The 56-year-old is commander of the Bundeswehr’s Territorial Tasks Command, which is responsible for operations of the armed forces at home.

The agreement states that that the remainder of the team will be made up of representatives from both state and federal government. This is intended to speed up the sometimes arduous process of coordinating between the 16 state leaders when decided on measures. 

READ ALSO: How Germany’s next government plans to fight Covid

Speaking to the Funke Media Group on Monday, Markus Lewe (CDU), the president of the German Association of Cities and Towns called for representatives of municipalities to also be involved the team.

“The new Covid crisis team must start immediately and the cities belong at the table,” he said. “The expertise of the cities is indispensable for this, because that is where the work is carried out and where Covid measures are implemented on the ground.”

Weekly infections hit new peak

The formation of the new crisis team comes as Germany struggles to get a grip on its ferocious fourth wave and respond to news of the Omicron variant which was discovered in South Africa last week. 

The first cases of the variant, which the World Health Organisation (WHO) says poses a “very high” global risk, were found in Germany over the weekend. 

On Monday, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported that the national weekly incidence of Covid infections had hit another peak of 452 per 100,000 people, while almost 30,000 new infections were recorded within 24 hours. Since reporting tends to be lower over the weekend, the number of daily cases is expected to rise throughout the week.

Another cause of concern is the situation in hospitals. On Friday, acting Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) revealed that operations were having to be postponed due to limited space in intensive care wards.

In some regions, the pressure on hospital staff and wards is so great that some patients are now having to be transferred to different hospitals “at great cost”, he said. 

Health Minister Jens Spahn
Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) discusses the Omicron variant and current Covid situation at a press conference on Friday, November 26th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bernd von Jutrczenka


With the situation worsening daily, Spahn has been one of several voices calling for urgent crunch talks between the federal government and heads of the state governments. 

Ministers had intended to discuss new Covid restrictions and review the effectiveness of the latest Covid measures at the next State Premiers’ Conference (MPK) on December 9th.

But Spahn, along with other political figures such as the Greens’ health expert Janosch Dahmen, are now calling for the MPK to be brought forward. 

“The current and new federal government will have to work out which additional regulations have to be put in place in the short term in order to enable an even more consistent fight against the pandemic,” Dahmen told Welt. 

“And we have to do that before December 9th.” 

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Do people in Germany still have to wear Covid masks on planes?

With the EU changing its Covid recommendations for flights, there is some confusion around whether people boarding a plane in Germany will still need to wear a mask. Here's what we know so far.

Do people in Germany still have to wear Covid masks on planes?

As of Monday, the aviation safety agency EASA and the EU health authority ECDC no longer recommend mandatory Covid masks in airports and on planes.

However, if masks are compulsory at the point of departure or destination, this should continue to apply in aircraft as well, they say.

So, what does this mean for passengers boarding flights in Germany? At the moment, not very much at all. 

In Germany, the Infection Protection Act still stipulates that masks have to be worn on long-distance trains and planes. Masks are also compulsory on local public transport.

The previous weeks have seen Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP) come out in favour of scrapping compulsory masks – especially on flights.

But so far, nothing concrete has been done to change the Infection Protection Act, which is due to expire on September 23rd. 

READ ALSO: German politicians row over lifting mandatory Covid mask rule

What are the current rules on flights? 

According to the Federal Ministry of Health, masks are compulsory on all flights taking off or landing in Germany.

FFP2 or medical masks must be worn when boarding and disembarking and throughout the flight, though they can be removed when eating and drinking.

Children under the age of six are exempt from the mask-wearing requirement. 

The ministry has argued that the obligation to wear masks also complies with the new EU recommendations. 

What are the rules acros the EU? 

In general, the relaxed EU recommendation does not mean that masks are no longer compulsory on all flights. However, many countries have kept this measure in place as a simple way to reduce infection. 

Europe’s largest low-cost airline, Ryanair, published a list of 14 EU countries in which national laws continue to require the wearing of face masks to prevent the spread of Covid.

Besides Germany, popular tourist destinations such as Spain, Greece, Portugal, Italy and France are included on the list. 

In other EU countries, the airline said it would be dropping mandatory masks on flights, adding that it “welcomed” the relaxed recommendations from the EU health authorities.  

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