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

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.

A sign saying
A sign that reads "Stop infection" hangs in a hospital ward. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Thomas Banneyer

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.

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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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?