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Could German states order bar and restaurant closures under new Covid laws?

After two rounds of emergency meetings, Germany's incoming government is set to make another set of changes to the Infection Protection Act in order to give regional leaders more powers to fight the Covid fourth wave. Here's what you need to know.

A sign outside a closed bar
A sign outside a closed bar reads "Just three more lockdowns and then it'll be Christmas." Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Jens Büttner

What’s going on? 

A few days before Germany’s new government is set to enter power, debates are still raging over whether a new set of Covid restrictions go far enough to dampen the impact of the fourth wave. 

At crisis talks held last week on Tuesday and Thursday, state leaders pushed the incoming SPD, Green and FDP coalition to give them more instruments for dealing with high Covid incidences – including the ability to order business closures and curfews.

As well as bringing new measures such as nationwide 2G – access only for people who are vaccinated or recovered – in non-essential shops and other public venues, the federal government agreed to amend the Infection Protection Act once again to allow states to take “appropriate additional measures” to tackle Covid. These include closing pubs and restaurants, banning large gatherings and the sale or consumption of alcohol, and restricting overnight stays in hotel. 

According to German media reports, the new government has produced a draft of the changes that will be discussed in parliament on Tuesday and Friday, with the aim of putting them into law by the middle of next week. 

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Germany’s new Covid rules to fight fourth wave

Will states be able to order lockdowns? 

Not exactly – though they can go halfway. According to the draft, state governments will have the power to ban large events and gatherings if the 7-day incidence of Covid infections reaches a critical level. That means that football matches, concerts and conferences can be all be cancelled under the new rules – though political demonstrations are still allowed.

They will also have the power to order the closure of hospitality, leisure and cultural venues for a restricted period of time – but again, only if the 7-day incidence of infections is particularly high. The recently amended Infection Protection Act had ruled out the blanket closures of businesses, meaning that states have so far been unable to close clubs and bars even when infections were spiralling.

READ ALSO: Berlin tightens Covid rules with dancing ban

The amended clause being discussed this week now states that the closure of trade, retail or wholesale businesses should be prohibited in the future “unless they are catering establishments, leisure or cultural facilities or trade fairs or congresses” – so while restaurants and bars could be forced to shut their doors, you’ll probably still be able to go shopping or work out at the gym. 

If states do go down this route, however, they’ll have to run the new measures past parliament first. 

Couldn’t they do this before?

Before the ‘epidemic situational of national importance’ was allowed to expire on November 25th, states were able to order measures like lockdowns, curfews, regional travel bans and blanket business closures without consulting parliament.

When the epidemic situation expired, however, states lost the legal basis for putting these strict measures in place. They were given a few of these powers – such as the ability to impose entry restrictions and mandatory masks – back in an amendment to the Infection Protection Act. But, as we mentioned, the amendments also included a clause forbidding blanket closures of schools and businesses, which has now been edited slightly to allow the closure of hospitality businesses.   

Empty streets in Baden-Württemberg
Empty streets in the town of Aalen, Baden-Württemberg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Stefan Puchner

What about the states that are already in lockdown? 

That’s a slightly different matter. Some states, like Saxony and Bavaria, went into partial lockdown while the ‘epidemic situation of national importance’ was still in place, but were initially only allowed to stay in lockdown until December 15th.

Under the new draft law, these states will now be allowed to extend their lockdowns until at least February 15th next year, should they choose to. 

READ ALSO: Germany to impose sweeping new Covid curbs on the unvaccinated

Anything else? 

A few weeks ago, the new government brought in testing obligations for employees and visitors in doctors’ surgeries, clinics and nursing homes.

Now, the draft has been changed to clarify that patients and “accompanying persons who only enter the facility or company for an insignificant period of time” are not considered visitors – i.e. parents at the paediatrician’s or assistants for people with disabilities. There had previously been confusion about this in some states.

In addition, there are plans to introduce a vaccine mandate for medical professionals and carers from March 15th next year, as well as offering permits to vets, dentists and pharmacists that will allow them to administer Covid jabs. 

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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.