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COVID-19 RULES

German health experts fear new Covid measures won’t break fourth wave

German leaders agreed on a raft of new measures that mainly target unvaccinated people - but there are already concerns that the curbs will not be enough to take the pressure off hospitals.

A sign on a Hamburg bar saying it is 2G plus (entry onto the vaccinated or recovered with a negative test).
A sign on a Hamburg bar saying it is 2G plus (entry onto the vaccinated or recovered with a negative test). Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Marcus Brandt

Outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel, incoming Chancellor Olaf Scholz, and the 16 state leaders, decided on Thursday to expand the so-called 2G rule nationwide. It means unvaccinated people will be barred from leisure and cultural facilities, as well as non-essential shops. 

There are also contact restrictions for the unvaccinated, and clubs will have to close in badly-affected Covid areas. States can also choose to close more of public life if they think it is needed.

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In the last weeks, the German government has also introduced 3G rules in the workplace and on public transport (meaning people have to be vaccinated, recovered or show a negative test), while some regions like Saxony and Bavaria, have shut much of public life. 

The Bundestag will also vote on a vaccine mandate for people in Germany which could come into force in February 2022. 

But there are fears that these measures will not break the fourth wave quickly enough, causing more pressure for already packed intensive care units. 

Gernot Marx, the president of the intensive care association DIVI, pleaded for tougher contact bans for all.

“We need clear contact restrictions,” he told the Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland, adding that it would be best if everyone was ordered to reduce contacts, including vaccinated people.

He said that not enough is known about the effects of the new virus variant of concern, dubbed Omicron. “We cannot exclude the possibility that the vaccines have a reduced effect,” he said. “Because of this lack of knowledge, it is vital to be especially careful.”

Virologist and member of the Standing Commission on Vaccination (STIKO) Klaus Überla had similar views.

“It is a mistake to rule out contact restrictions for vaccinated people,” he said, adding that “the vaccinated play a considerable role in the spread of the virus”.

President of the German Medical Association Klaus Reinhardt told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung that the new rules aren’t tough enough.

“In order to protect the health system from overload, even more far-reaching measures would be necessary in our view,” he said.

He suggested that 2G plus rule (where vaccinated and recovered people have to show a negative Covid test) should be implemented nationwide in bars, restaurants as well as for indoor sports and cultural events.

On Friday, Germany reported 74,352 Covid infections within 24 hours, and 390 Covid-related deaths. The 7-day incidence climbed to 442.1 infections per 100,000 people after a period of stagnation. 

Others said the decisions by the government and states were welcome. 

“The catalogue of measures comes late, but better late than not at all”, Gerd Landsberg, chief executive of the Association of Towns and Municipalities, told the Rheinische Post.

Yet epidemiologist Hajo Zeeb of the Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology in Bremen, said some of the restrictions would be difficult to implement.

“It is questionable how the contact restrictions for unvaccinated people can be enforced and controlled.” He said. He added that Germany is still not out of the woods: “With the resolutions, we will still have an increase in clinics and intensive care units for about three to four weeks.”

Zeeb also said the incidence was expected to rise for some time. “The wave is not going to stop anytime soon,” he said.

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TRAVEL NEWS

Travel in Europe: UK to scrap all Covid travel rules

The UK is set to scrap all Covid-19 travel restrictions in what the government described as a "landmark moment".

Travel in Europe: UK to scrap all Covid travel rules

Testing is no longer required for vaccinated travellers, but the UK government has announced that it will scrap all Covid-19 travel rules on Friday, March 18th.

“As one of the first major economies to remove all its remaining Covid-19 travel restrictions, this is a landmark moment for passengers and the travel and aviation sector,” said the Government in a press release. 

From 4am on March 18th:

  • Passengers going to the UK will no longer be required to fill out a Passenger Locator Form before travel;
  • Passengers who are not vaccinated will not be required to take a pre-departure Covid test, or a Day 2 test following arrival. Fully vaccinated travellers are already exempt from having to do this;
  • Hotel quarantine for travellers coming from ‘red list’ countries, of which there are currently none, will also be scrapped by the end of the month. 

“We will continue monitoring and tracking potential new variants, and keep a reserve of measures which can be rapidly deployed if needed to keep us safe,” said UK Health Minister Sajid Javid. 

The UK has lifted all Covid-related rules including mask rules and mandatory self-isolation if you test positive for Covid.

Some European countries still have Covid restrictions in place for unvaccinated people coming from the UK. 

Until March 18th

Until the new rules come into effect, all travellers are required to fill out a passenger locator form. 

Unvaccinated travellers are also required to take pre-departure test and a test on or before Day 2 following their arrival. 

The UK border officers will recognise proof of vaccination provided with an EU Covid Certificate.

For the UK “fully vaccinated” means 14 days after your final dose of a EMA/FDA or Swiss approved vaccine (Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson). 

After a period of confusion, the UK government says that it will accept mixed doses administered in the EU (eg one dose of AstraZeneca and one of Pfizer).

However people who have only had a single dose after previously recovering from Covid – which is standard practice in some European countries – are not accepted as vaccinated by the UK.

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