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COVID-19

Will Germany bring in new Covid ’emergency brake’ restrictions?

Chancellor Angela Merkel and her soon-to-be successor Olaf Scholz are talking with state leaders on how to handle the Covid situation in Germany. Here's what they are considering.

People walk in the centre of Cologne on Tuesday.
People walk in the centre of Cologne on Tuesday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Oliver Berg

What’s the latest?

Merkel and Scholz are holding a remote crisis meeting with the heads of the states on Tuesday afternoon today to discuss the dramatic Covid situation in Germany. It comes ahead of the planned Covid talks on December 9th. 

They will be discussing Germany’s constitutional court ruling, which may pave the way for tougher restrictions. 

The political leaders will also be looking at the new crisis team aimed at coordinating the government response, as well as how to deal with the new Omicron variant. 

READ ALSO: German court rules partial lockdown lawful

What’s this about a court ruling?

It wouldn’t be Germany without a high-profile court ruling, would it? This time it’s about the constitutional court which said on Tuesday that far-reaching restrictions brought in as part of the ‘federal emergency brake’ rule aimed at slowing down coronavirus infections were lawful.

The controversial emergency brake measures were brought in back in April 2021 in a bid to help get the third Covid wave under control and even out the wildly different patchwork of measures across the 16 states. Districts had to bring in measures like curfews and bans on contact when Covid infections rose above a certain level.

The court gave two rulings on Tuesday – one on curfews and contact restrictions and another on school closures. Judges said these restrictions were compatible with Germany’s Basic Law due to the context of the “extremely dangerous pandemic situation”.

Some of the complaints on the measures had been lodged to the court by politicians from the Free Democrats (FDP), which is one of the parties entering into the new German government coalition. 

What measures do political leaders want to see?

Pressure is growing on German authorities to do more to stem the spread of Covid due to rising infection figures, packed-out intensive care units and worries over the new Omicron variant.

State premier Tobias Hans (CDU) said that in view of the “national pandemic emergency”, there must be “nationwide, emergency brake measures”.

Merkel’s chief of staff Helge Braun (CDU), also insisted on a nationwide uniform “emergency brake” in the fight against the dramatic fourth wave of the pandemic.

“We now need an emergency brake that functions nationwide according to uniform rules that are comprehensible to citizens,” Braun told DPA.

“The ruling (by the constitutional court) makes it clear that binding nationwide action is possible in the corona crisis. And I add: in the current, difficult situation, it is also necessary.”

Braun, however, dampened expectations for the federal-state consultations on Tuesday, saying: “Decisions are not planned for today. That was the precondition for the meeting,” the CDU politician told RTL and ntv.

READ ALSO: German leaders to discuss tougher Covid restrictions

Calls for action are also being heard from the ranks of the incoming government.

Green health politician Janosch Dahmen said: “We need a uniform partial shutdown in many regions of the country to break the fourth wave.”

He said this meant targeted closures of restaurants, bars and clubs, as well as cancelling larger events when needed. Schools and daycare centres, however, should remain open as far as possible with masks and daily tests, said Dahmen.

The Greens’ Katrin Göring-Eckardt called for decisions to be taken quickly.

“I think that this week we must have a clear idea of how to proceed,” said Göring-Eckardt told broadcaster ARD.

Decisions must be made now, “which will then apply nationwide”. What has to be done is obvious: “reduce contacts”, and that “together, nationwide, according to common criteria”, she added.

Meanwhile, Green co-leader Robert Habeck said that Germany “will need new uniform measures to get through the winter”.

“What has to happen is absolutely clear: contacts must be reduced,” said Habeck, also calling for unvaccinated people to be banned from “all public facilities” apart from essential shops.

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

Can Germany bring in these kinds of sweeping measures?

It’s a good question. The German parliament and states voted to allow the so-called ‘epidemic situation of national importance’ to expire on November 25th. These ‘pandemic emergency powers’ allowed federal and state governments to order hard-hitting measures without the approval of parliaments

The government and states instead reformed the legislation to include wide-ranging measures for combatting the fourth wave, including the implementation of a national ‘3G’ rule in the workplace and on public transport. 

READ ALSO: Germany reforms law for sweeping Covid measures

But the reformed law stops short of allowing blanket closures of schools and businesses, or domestic travel restrictions. 

There is, however, the possibility for hard-hit regions to bring in tougher restrictions.

Acting Chancellor Merkel’s CDU/CSU parties said at the time that the measures would not be enough, and only agreed to the changes to the infection protection laws if they were evaluated to see if improvements were necessary.

Meanwhile, the incoming government coalition – made up of the Social Democrats, the Greens and the FDP – said they wanted to wait until the ruling by the constitutional court was published to decide about a possible tightening of Covid measures. 

Tagesschau reported that the Bundestag could re-establish the ‘epidemic situation of national importance’ with a fairly simple resolution.

“This would provide a legal basis for all previous crisis instruments in one fell swoop,” said the broadcaster. This could happen in the next regular session in the week of December 6th or earlier in a special session.

Or it may be the case that Merkel, Scholz and German state leaders decide on far-reaching measures together that the states would then apply themselves.

But this would depend on the federal government and states reaching an agreement – which hasn’t often been easy in the past.

Member comments

  1. There will be a lot of angry German (and other residents) if the government reneges on their promise not to lockdown the vaccinated. We are all to be punished for the stupid actions of some people. Let the hospitals fill up. If an unvaccinated person gets COVID and needs care, screw them. If a person needs specialized care in a hospital and the bed is filled with a unvaccinated COVID patient, unhook them and wheel them out to the curb. You made your bed, now sleep in it! The unvaccinated are beyond selfish.

    1. Mandatory vaccination is required. I have no tolerance for anti vaxxers that are messing it up for everyone else.

      1. I agree. We are at least 95% on our bases in Germany because of mandates and that is 5 years old and up. Many of our youngest children get their second shot next week. After that, only a handful with be unvaxxed and those 4 and under.

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COVID-19 RULES

Germany to bring in new Covid rules ahead of ‘difficult’ winter

With infection numbers shooting up once again in Germany, states are set to bring in a new set of Covid measures on October 1st.

Germany to bring in new Covid rules ahead of 'difficult' winter

From Saturday, masks will no longer be required on commercial flights, though people will still be expected to wear an FFP2 mask on long-distance trains.

States will also be given the option to introduce mandatory masks in other public indoor spaces, including on local public transport and in schools. If they choose to bring in masks, they’ll also have the freedom to introduce exceptions to masks for people who are recently vaccinated or who have tested negative for Covid.

States will also be able to introduce compulsory testing in schools and nurseries.

READ ALSO: German states likely to keep mask mandate on public transport

Speaking at a press conference alongside Robert Koch Institute (RKI) chair Lothar Wieler on Friday, German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach defended the decision to keep Covid rules in place when other countries in Europe have largely got rid of their pandemic measures. 

“It’s not for me to criticise what other countries are doing,” said Lauterbach. “We have a particularly difficult winter ahead of us due to the energy crisis, we don’t want to make it worse through the Covid crisis.”

The SPD politician also defended plans for mandatory masks for residents and staff in nursing and care homes. Having 40 or 50 vulnerable people together in an enclosed space is “extremely high-risk”, he said. 

Under the new rules set to be introduced on Saturday, residents of care homes will be expected to wear FPP2 masks in all common areas of the home, and will only be able to take them off in their bedrooms.

“For people in nursing homes, the FFP2 mask requirement means a considerable cut in their quality of life,” Regina Görner, chairwoman of the Federal Association of Senior Citizens’ Organisations (Bagso), told DPA:

“The nursing home is their home, in which they can then no longer move freely without a mask.”

Visitors to nursing homes, meanwhile, will have to supply a negative Covid test, while staff will be tested three times a week. 

Under the autumn and winter rules, people across Germany will also be required to wear an FFP2 mask at their doctor’s surgery and in medical outpatient facilities such as hospitals.

“We’re better prepared than last autumn,” Lauterbach told reporters on Friday. “We have the infection numbers under control, we have this wave under control.” 

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS – Germany’s new Covid-19 rules for autumn

Steep rise in cases

As the weather turns colder, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) has reported a steep rise in respiratory infections, including Covid-19.

Last week, the number of Covid patients jumped dramatically from 500,000 to 1.2 million per week, with cases rising significantly in every age group.

Meanwhile, the 7-day incidence of Covid infections per 100,000 people shot up from 409 on Thursday to 466 on Friday. The previous week, the weekly incidence stood at 294 per 100,000 people. 

The numbers are believed to be partially inflated by the ongoing Oktoberfest beer festival, which is being held for the first time since the pandemic started. In Munich, the location of the festival, the weekly incidence is almost 800. 

Speaking at the press conference in Berlin on Friday, RKI chair Wieler warned people not to get complacent about the threat of infection.

“A mild course of illness simply means not ending up in hospital,” he said. “We should be conscious of how much risk we want take on, and how much risk we can avoid.”

RKI chief Lothar Wieler

Robert Koch Institute chair Lothar Wieler (l) and Heath Minister Karl Lauterbach (r) hold a press conference in Berlin on Friday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Wolfgang Kumm

Despite the looming energy crisis, the RKI boss advised the public to ensure that rooms were well ventilated, adding that spaces normally occupied by a large number of people should be aired out more regularly.

He also advised people with Covid symptoms to stay home until they felt better in order to avoid passing on any infections, and warned that people should be especially careful to avoid contact with vulnerable people.

“Just like before, these people need our solidarity,” he said. 

Self-isolation and quarantine rules vary from state to state, but people who test positive for Covid generally have to isolate for a minimum of five days and a maximum of 10.

In some cases, people can take an additional Covid test in order to end their isolation early.

The RKI has also recommended that people wear a mask in public enclosed spaces. 

READ ALSO: What will the Covid situation in Germany look like this autumn?

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