Multiple German states tighten Covid rules ahead of New Year

Under emergency plans agreed by the state and federal governments to combat the highly infectious Omicron variant, a number of German states will introduce tighter Covid restrictions from Monday.

Christmas Market in Schwerin
People browse the stalls at the Christmas market in Schwerin, Mecklenburg Western-Pomerania, on December 1st, 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Jens Büttner

The changes, which were drafted at a meeting between Chancellor Olaf Scholz and the 16 federal state leaders on December 21st, include restricting private gatherings to up to ten vaccinated or recovered people and shutting dance venues and nightclubs. 

Some federal states had already opted to bring in stricter rules on gatherings ahead of the Christmas break, though the majority opted to wait until after Boxing Day to implement the changes. The deadline for bringing in the new rules nationwide is the 28th.

From Monday, stricter rules will apply in Baden-Württemberg, Lower Saxony, Brandenburg and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, with other states due to follow on Tuesday. 

Despite a recent decline in the number of cases, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania’s state government has ordered the closure of many public venues – including cinemas, theatres, museums, inside spaces in zoos, swimming pools and other recreational facilities. Until now, these restrictions only applied in the centre and east of the state.

However, since the Covid ‘traffic light’ has been on red for several days and the state is bracing for a wave of Omicron infections, ministers have opted to bring in tougher rules statewide.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The rules and official advice for Christmas and New Year in Germany

Meanwhile, in Brandenburg, a limit of ten people will apply to vaccinated and recovered people at private meetings indoors or outdoors from Monday until at least January 11th. 

If there is someone in a household who is unvaccinated, the existing rules remain unchanged: only up to two people from another household are allowed to join private gatherings, and children under 14 are not counted.

In Lower Saxony, too, only groups of up to ten vaccinated and recovered people are allowed to meet – not counting children. In Baden-Württemberg, a curfew in the catering industry from 10:30 pm until 5am will applies from Monday. On New Year’s Eve, however, the curfew will be slightly shorter – running between 1am and 5am. 

Opponents of Covid measures plan to mobilise in numerous German cities on Monday in protest against the rules.

Demonstrations are planned in several cities in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Hesse, Rhineland-Palatinate and Brandenburg, as well as in Mannheim in Baden-Württemberg.

On Boxing Day, several hundred people protested against Covid regulations in Berlin as well as in Schweinfurt. According to regional police, the Schweinfurt protest saw clashes between security forces and protestors. A young child was allegedly injured at the scene. 

READ ALSO: German health authority reports cases of Omicron in every state

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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?