Shortening quarantine ‘must be considered’, says German Health Minister

A sign saying
A sign that reads "Stop infection" hangs in a hospital ward. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Thomas Banneyer
German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) has confirmed that he plans to review the length of time people must spend in quarantine if they're infected with - or have contact with someone infected with - Covid-19.

The increasing prevalence of the highly transmissible Omicron variant means Germany is seeing “a somewhat different situation than we had a week ago”, Lauterbach said on ARD’s Tagesthemen on Wednesday evening. “We now need to consider what this means for the duration of quarantine, what this means for contact reductions.” 

Calls have been growing for a reduction in the mandatory 14-day quarantine for people infected with Omicron – or those who have had contact with an infected person – to ensure that critical infrastructure like transport and essential shops continue to function during the fifth wave. 

READ MORE: Will Germany shorten Covid quarantine to handle the Omicron variant?

Several countries, such as the US and the UK, have already shortened the duration of quarantine for infected people without symptoms in view of the approaching wave with the even more contagious virus variant Omicron, in order to prevent acute staff shortages in businesses and public services. 

On Wednesday, Spain shortened the quarantine period for symptomless infected people from ten to seven days. France, Italy and Switzerland are all considering similar moves and are expected to make a decision this week or next. 

Along with Bavarian state premier Markus Söder, the Bavarian health minister Klaus Holetschek (CSU) has been calling for the duration of quarantine to be shortened in recent days.

“We must now set the course in order to be well prepared – especially with regard to the critical infrastructure,” Holetschek told the news portal Watson.

“From my point of view, an exemption from quarantine for boosted contacts, for example, would be conceivable.”

Holetschek urged the Robert Koch Institute or the new experts’ council to make recommendations on the topic before the next meeting of the state premiers on January 7th.

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On Thursday, the 7-day incidence of Covid infections went up slightly after dropping consistently in the first half of the week. 

Lauterbach believes the low figures could be down to underreporting from local authorities over the Christmas period.

The current weekly incidence of 207 per 100,000 people could reflect the fact that fewer tests are carried out over the holidays, and the results of the tests that are taken tend to be reported late, he said. 

The SPD politician also used his appearance on ARD to criticise the understaffing of the local health authorities – an issue which he says is a “priority” to fix. However, the current estimates of infection rates are “good enough to see what is going on in Germany”, he said.

READ ALSO: Prevalence of Omicron in Germany unclear, cautions Health Minister

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