German politicians float shorter quarantine times for Omicron wave

Karl Lauterbach
German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) speaks at a press conference on December 22nd, 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld
German health ministers are considering shortening the mandatory 14-day isolation for people who've had contact with someone infected with Omicron - or dropping it entirely for those who've had a booster jab.

New Covid-19 quarantine rules could be on the way for German residents later this week.

On Friday, the federal and state governments will meet to discuss whether isolation periods for people who test positive for COVID—19 should be shortened. Boosted people who have had contact with someone who has tested positive may also be exempted from quarantine altogether.

In a Sunday evening television interview with RTL/ntv, federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach stressed that any new changes to quarantine rules are still under discussion between the federal and state governments, with no final decisions expected until they meet on Friday.

The debate on shortening quarantine comes after the federal government’s expert council voiced concerns that critical German infrastructure, including hospitals and emergency crews, could come under too much strain if too many people had to quarantine at the same time. Spain, Portugal, and the UK have already shortened their isolation times from ten days to seven—as long as those infected are asymptomatic.

The United States now requires just five days. Klaus Holetschek, Health Minister for the populous state of Bavaria, has already suggested that Germany should follow suit, adding that quarantine for boosted people who come in contact with a positive case should be dropped entirely.

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

“Omicron is different from previous variants. That’s why the quarantine rules have to be adjusted,” Tino Sorge, Bundestag health policy spokesperson for the Christian Democrats told the Welt newspaper. “We expect a new dynamic with a lot of new coronavirus infections, but many of these will also be mild. In a situation like that, we have to prevent staff shortages from paralyzing the economy and critical infrastructure.”

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Omicron is already the dominant COVID—19 variant in the state of Schleswig-Holstein, and Lauterbach expects it will soon be the main variant in the rest of the country as well. On Tuesday, Germany will lift its travel ban and mandatory 14-day isolation period for those coming in from countries where Omicron is already dominant—such as the UK. 

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