From December 24th until January 2nd, the entire western state of Lower Saxony will move to ‘warning level 3’ which is usually only for Covid hotspots.
On Friday, December 10th, state premier Stephan Weil announced a number of special regulations. They include a ban on large New Year’s Eve parties, while clubs and discos will have to close – but restaurants and hotels will stay open.
The aim is to try and combat Germany’s fierce fourth Covid wave and slow the spread of the more transmissible Omicron variant.
Other states may choose to follow Weil’s lead. With a 7-day incidence of 163.4 infections per 100,000 people, Lower Saxony is one of the least Covid-affected German states currently, along with Schleswig-Holstein.
The eastern states of Thuringia (7-day incidence of 1032.7) and Saxony (1024.5) are the worst affected. Saxony currently has a lockdown in place, with bars and many cultural facilities closed. Restaurants also have to shut in the worst-affected areas. The lockdown (or Wellenbrecher) was recently extended until January 9th.
Why is Lower Saxony implementing a partial shutdown?
State premier Weil, who belongs to the Social Democrats, said he wanted to prepare for the Omicron wave.
“I am extremely concerned about what may come our way at the beginning of the year,” he said when announcing the plans.
“The period between Christmas and New Year is one of intense social contact. We must not come out of this period with an even bigger problem than we went in with.
He said the “Christmas quiet period” is part of the new state ‘Corona Ordinance’, which has been in force since Sunday. At the end of last week, the federal government changed infection protection laws in order to give states more powers to fight the pandemic.
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Here’s a look at the rules between December 24th and January 2nd:
- Private meetings/New Year’s Eve parties: vaccinated and recovered people will be allowed to meet indoors with a maximum of 25 people, and outside with a maximum of 50 people. Unvaccinated people can meet a maximum of two people from another household. Children under 14 years of age do not count
- Christmas services are to be allowed, but Christmas markets will be banned during this time
- 2G rules (entry only for the vaccinated and recovered) continue to apply in non-essential shops
- 2G-plus (vaccinated and recovered will have to show a test) will apply in many other areas
- Events with more than 10 people are to be possible with 2G-plus rule or clear capacity limitation
- Events with more than 500 people and fairs are to be banned
- Dance events are to be banned, discos and clubs have to close
- Catering establishments (like restaurants and cafes) and fitness studios to remain open
- Accommodation (like hotels) are to remain open with the 2G-plus rule.
The opposition in Lower Saxony’s state government were sceptical about the plans.
Green Party leader Julia Willie Hamburg called for speedier vaccinations and better Covid testing infrastructure.
Meanwhile, the business friendly Free Democrats (FDP) called the changes to regulations a “communication disaster” and questioned if the rules would hold up in court.
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What’s happening at schools?
There has been talk among German states of moving school Christmas holidays forward.
In Lower Saxony, the education minister Grant Hendrik Tonne (SPD) said this wouldn’t happen but that compulsory attendance at schools will be lifted before Christmas.
As of December 20th – three days before the start of the holidays – pupils do not have to attend school if their parents do not want them too. However, they will not receive distance learning on these three days.
The holidays are to begin as planned in Lower Saxony on December 23rd and last until January 7th.