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COVID-19

KEY POINTS: How Germany is tightening Covid laws to allow more restrictions

Germany voted through a reform of Covid laws on Friday with plans for a vaccine mandate for health and care workers, and for states to get more powers to implement tougher Covid restrictions.

A sign showing where people can get vaccinated in Coswig, Saxony.
A sign showing where people can get vaccinated in Coswig, Saxony. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Sebastian Kahnert

What’s happening?

On Friday the Bundestag (German parliament) and Bundesrat (which represents state leaders) passed new Covid laws. 

The plans put together by the new German coalition government – made up of the Social Democrats (SPD), the Greens and the Free Democrats (FDP) – include a partial vaccine mandate, meaning employees in institutions with people in need of care, such as nursing homes and clinics, have to present proof of their inoculation or recent recovery from Covid-19 by mid-March 2022.

German states will also be given more powers to impose tougher regional restrictions – such as restaurant closures – if the Covid situation calls for it under the plans.

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The plans also include a change to law which would allow pharmacies, dentists and vets to carry out jabs.

Why does the new government want tougher rules?

The 7-day incidence of infections in Germany has been falling in recent days – but it remains at a high level. Daily deaths are also extremely high, and there are fears over how the new Omicron variant of Covid-19 will affect Germany. 

On Friday 61,288 Covid infections were logged in Germany within the last 24 hours, and 484 Covid-related deaths. The 7-day incidence was 413.7 infections per 100,000 people. 

New Health Minister Karl Lauterbach told the Bundestag: “We want to strengthen our infection protection law to give all German states the tools they need to get a grip on infection levels. 

“They can ban large public gatherings and big sports events. They can close down bars, clubs and discos. They’ll even be able to shut restaurants if necessary. We’re providing the means to break the Delta wave regionally and nationally, and we’re doing all we can to prevent a powerful Omicron variant.”

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach in the Bundestag on Friday.
Health Minister Karl Lauterbach in the Bundestag on Friday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bernd von Jutrczenka

In the latest weekly report, Germany’s Robert Koch Institute (RKI) advised stronger efforts to battle the pandemic despite the slight decline in new infections.

“Only by intensifying contact-restriction measures and rapidly increasing vaccination rates can the situation be improved,” said the RKI. 

The new plans by the so-called traffic light coalition parties aim to make this possible again, although there is still doubt about whether it will be enough to break the wave and prepare for Omicron.

The plans were being debated and voted on in the Bundestag before going through the states’ chamber (Bundesrat). The plans were given the green light in both houses of parliament. 

It comes after the federal government and state ministers decided on no further Covid measures – such as a mini lockdown – during the Christmas period at this stage, although leaders will be watching the situation closely. 

Here’s an overview of the plans from the new government:

– Special vaccination requirement: Employees in institutions such as clinics, nursing homes and doctors’ surgeries have to show proof of full vaccination protection or recovery to continue their work by March 15th 2022 – or a doctor’s certificate stating that they cannot be vaccinated. New employees will need this proof from this date onwards.

READ MORE: German health workers must be fully vaccinated by March 15th 2022

– More vaccinations: In addition to doctors, pharmacists, vets and dentists are to be allowed to vaccinate people over the age of 12 for a limited period of time. Prerequisites are that staff must have training and suitable premises, or be integrated into mobile vaccination teams.

– Regional measures I: In the event of a critical situation, the states could – following a parliamentary resolution – already order tougher regulations for leisure or sport. But according to the initial law, no curfews or blanket closures of shops and schools are allowed. Now there will be some changes. MPs want to make it clear that gatherings and events (except demonstrations) can be banned – especially when it comes to sports that have large numbers of spectators. They also want to clarify that closures of restaurants are possible – but not of fitness centres and swimming pools.

– Regional measures II: Shortly before the ‘epidemic situation of national importance’ (emergency pandemic powers) expired on November 25th in Germany, individual states (Bavaria and Saxony) had decided on more far-reaching, tougher measures on the previous legal basis So far, these have been allowed to remain in force until December 15th. According to the latest plans, the deadline is to be extended to March 19th.

– Testing rules: Strict testing rules have already been laid down for employees and visitors in doctors’ surgeries, clinics and nursing homes to help keep the Covid spread at bay in these areas. Now, according to the plans, it is to be specified that patients and “accompanying persons who only enter the facility or the company for an insignificant period of time” are not considered visitors – i.e. parents going to the paediatrician’s office.

– Higher Kurzarbeit allowance German leaders want to make some changes to the Kurzarbeit (reduced working hours) scheme by topping up the money paid out. Kurzarbeit, which allows employers to reduce hours for employees while keeping them on the payroll, has already been extended to the end of March 2022. 

Under the plans, 70 percent of people’s monthly net salary is to be paid from the fourth month of receipt – 77 percent if a child lives in the household. From the seventh month onwards, 80 percent (and 87 percent for a household with a child) of the monthly net salary is planned.

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TRAVEL NEWS

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?

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