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COVID-19

Top virologist signals support for shortening quarantine in Germany

High-profile virologist Christian Drosten has spoken out in favour of shortening the duration of quarantine to prevent staff shortages during an Omicron wave.

Virologist Christian Drosten.
Virologist Christian Drosten. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Rolf Vennenbernd

Speaking to DPA on Tuesday, Drosten said it could “make perfect sense” for someone to be cleared to leave the house after five or seven days, especially in terms of preventing severe staff shortages in critical infrastructure. 

People with full vaccination protection who become infected can fight the virus faster and earlier due to the immune reaction, he explained. 

However, “this can only be done seriously if it is accompanied by a negative test,” said the Secretary General of the German Society for Immunology. “To simply shorten it like that because they say, we’d rather let people out after seven days, with or without a test, than have too many people out of action – I would consider that negligent.”

As the highly transmissible Omicron variant takes hold in Germany, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) has been calling for quarantine durations to be shortened to prevent severe disruptions to public services and infrastructure. 

In recent weeks, the UK, Spain, Portugal, and USA have all decided to reduce the length of time people must self-isolate after contracting Covid, while a number of other countries are said to be considering it. 

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

Speaking on Deutschlandfunk recently, Drosten said that with a free test, infected people could certainly be considered non-infectious again after the period of self-isolation – even after just a few days. He assumes that quarantine regulations could also be shortened in the future, even if “a few cases” may be overlooked under the new system. 

The idea that society as a whole no longer wants or needs to be able to “prevent all transmissions” has been going on for a long time, but the discussion has never been fully resolved, Drosten said.

“I always have to put an ‘if’ in front of this, because it is not yet certain, but if Omicron really has a reduced disease severity on the whole, then I think it makes a lot of sense to go in that direction,” he added. 

Experts’ Council to consider new measures

The Berlin-based virologist sits on the newly formed Experts’ Council, which was set up to advise the government on Covid strategy and ensure future policies are scientifically and medically sound.

Ahead of talks between the federal and state government on Friday, the Experts’ Council is due to meet to put together proposals for new measures to tackle the Omicron wave. 

In addition to shortening quarantine duration, the health experts will also consider whether further contact restrictions are needed. Currently, up to ten vaccinated or recovered people can meet indoors at a time for a private gathering – or just two households if an unvaccinated person is present.

There are also proposals to scrap quarantine requirements for people who have had a booster jab and have been in close contact with someone infected with Covid. 

The Experts’ Council recommendations will then be discussed at the roundtable between state and federal governments, with a decision on future measures expected to be made on Friday. 

READ ALSO: German Ethics Council recommends extending vaccine mandates

Member comments

  1. I will have been in quarantine for 14 days this coming Thursday 6th January having had NO symptoms for the entire duration. It has been a frustrating experience as I am Triple vaxxed and have been negative since day 6. So while it will be sod’s law if they change the rules this coming Friday, it is the sensible thing to do. I know people who are positive but have refused to take a PCR test because they couldn’t afford to be locked up for 14 days. Others simply refuse to follow the rules as they don’t make sense. Germany is well behind the curve on this. Time to follow the science.

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COVID-19 RULES

Bavaria pushes for stricter Covid regulations in autumn

Health ministers across Germany's 16 states are debating the government's new Covid plan - and politicians in Bavaria say they want more clarity.

Bavaria pushes for stricter Covid regulations in autumn

On Tuesday, federal and state health ministers planned to discuss the Covid protection proposals for autumn and winter presented last week by Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) and Justice Minister Marco Buschmann (FDP).

However, some states and politicians are not satisfied with the plans. 

Under the proposals, masks will remain mandatory in air and long-distance transport, as well as clinics, nationwide. But federal states will be able to choose themselves whether to introduce further measures like mandatory masks on public and regional transport.

States will also have the power to take tougher Covid measures if the situation calls for it, such as mandatory masks indoors, but lockdowns and school closures have been ruled out. 

READ ALSO Masks and no lockdowns: Germany’s new Covid plan from autumn to Easter

The draft law states that there can be exceptions from wearing masks in indoor spaces, such as restaurants, for recently Covid-vaccinated or recovered people. 

But Bavaria’s health minister Klaus Holetschek (CSU) told DPA that these planned exemptions were not justified because vaccinated and recovered people can still transmit infections. “There are clear gaps in the current draft law,” said the CSU politician.

Dominik Spitzer, health policy spokesman for the FDP parliamentary group in the Bavarian state parliament, also questioned this exception, saying the rules “simply made no sense”.

“With the current virus variant, that would be impossible to convey, since even vaccinated people can continue to carry the virus,” the FDP politician told Bavarian broadcaster BR24. 

The coalition government’s graduated plan under the new Infection Protection Act, is set to be in force from October 1st until April 7th next year. 

The powers for the states are a first step, “but they do not go far enough for us”, Holetschek added, while calling for some points to be tightened up. “We need strong guidelines for autumn and winter.”

Holetschek said the government needed to tighten up the criteria with which states can adopt and enforce more effective measures to protect against the spread of Covid-19.

READ ALSO: Could Germany see a ‘patchwork’ of Covid rules?

Meanwhile, CDU health politician Erwin Rüddel said Germany was on the “wrong track” and the country should find “a completely different approach” to Covid policy than it has so far.

He accused the coalition government of being in “panic mode” and said he doubted the Bundestag would pass the proposals.

“I believe, there will be significant changes (to the draft)”, he said.

But the chairperson of the doctors’ association Marburger Bund, Susanne Johna, backed the plans.

“The proposal for the new Infection Protection Act gives the states sufficient possibilities to react adequately to the infection situation,” Johna told the Rheinische Post on Tuesday.

“The states can take regionally adapted measures to protect people if the need arises. I can’t understand why this concept is being called into question right away.”

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