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COVID-19

German constitutional court rules partial lockdown lawful

Germany's constitutional court ruled Tuesday that sweeping restrictions to stem coronavirus infections such as curfews, school closures and contact restrictions were lawful, in a decision that could pave the way for further curbs.

Chairs stacked at a restaurant/cafe in Dresden during Covid restrictions in April 2021.
Chairs stacked at a restaurant/cafe in Dresden during Covid restrictions in April 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Sebastian Kahnert

The verdict came hours before Chancellor Angela Merkel was due to meet with her designated successor, Olaf Scholz, as well as regional leaders of Germany’s 16 states on whether to toughen up restrictions to tame raging infections.

Helge Braun, Merkel’s chief of staff, told the RTL broadcaster the court decision would show “which of two paths we should go down”.

READ ALSO: German leaders to discuss tougher Covid restrictions

The meeting, due to be held remotely, comes amid a record wave of infections in Germany.

The country recorded 45,753 new infections on Tuesday and 388 deaths, according to the Robert Koch Institute health agency.

READ ALSO: Germany’s Covid incidence falls slightly – but cases expected to rise

Hospitals have long been sounding the alarm, with many already over capacity and sending patients to other parts of Germany.

To tame the surge, Europe’s biggest economy has over the last weeks began requiring people to prove they are vaccinated, have recovered from Covid 19 or have recently tested negative before they can travel on public transport or enter workplaces.

Several of the worst-hit areas have gone further, cancelling large events like Christmas markets and barring the unvaccinated from bars, gyms and leisure facilities.

But with infections shooting to new records day after day, calls have grown louder for further curbs.

‘Lockdown for the unvaccinated’

Germany’s vice-chancellor-in-waiting Robert Habeck on Tuesday called for tougher restrictions to slow the spread of the disease.

“What has to happen is absolutely clear: contacts must be reduced,” the co-leader of the Green party said, also calling for unvaccinated people to be banned from “all public facilities” apart from essential shops.

“We will need new uniform measures to get through the winter,” Habeck said, also urging Germany’s federal states to apply the “range of options” they already have, such as cancelling Christmas markets.

“This is then – it must be said so harshly – a lockdown for the unvaccinated,” he said.

Member comments

  1. I hope a fireworks ban is imposed this year.

    Frontliners do not need the additional stress and the environment certainly needs a break.

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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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