An announcement on new Covid-19 rules to combat Germany’s Omicron wave is expected on Friday after a meeting between the German federal and state governments.
Both state and federal-level ministers—from all political parties—have been outlining their priorities in recent days. But as German measures are typically decided only after consultation and compromise, nothing is certain yet.
When is the meeting and who is involved?
Friday’s meeting involves Chancellor Olaf Scholz and the leaders of Germany’s 16 federal states.
They’ll consider advice from their cabinets, especially their health ministers, and the recently formed Experts Council—which advises the federal government on Covid-19. Both the health ministers and Experts Council have met already in the last few days.
What’s the goal?
Because of the division of powers between Germany’s federal government and its state governments, each of the 16 states have a considerable amount of power and discretion to decide their own pandemic response measures.
Meetings like the one on Friday, often called “Corona Summits,” are held to decide a minimum basis of rules that apply nationally. The state-level is then allowed to go further than these minimums if it chooses to.
What measures are we most likely to see?
Both federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach and several other state-level officials have spoken in media interviews over the last few weeks about shortening quarantine times in Germany.
High-profile virologist Christian Drosten, who has advised the government throughout the pandemic, has also spoken out in support of shortening quarantine times, amidst concerns that critical German infrastructure, including hospitals and emergency crews, could come under too much strain if too many people are in quarantine at once.
“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 paralysing the economy and critical infrastructure.”
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Lauterbach also says quarantine times can be reduced safely.
“Studies show us that the generation time—or the time it takes between when the virus spreads in the body and when they’re contagious is much shorter with Omicron.”
It’s not yet clear whether mandatory quarantine time will be reduced to seven days or to five days, although both options have been suggested.
Drosten says the shortening option makes sense only if people can submit a negative test, but it’s not yet clear whether a testing obligation will be a part of the final rules, or whether it will apply to everyone or just those who have been vaccinated.
Bavarian Health Minister Klaus Holetschek has made a similar suggestion, and says that boosted people who come into contact with a positive case should be able to skip mandatory isolation entirely.
It’s not currently clear though, how much support such a measure has.While it seems almost certain that we’ll see a shorter quarantine time, it’s not clear how much support an exemption for the boosted with have at the Corona Summit. Government heads may also discuss whether to exempt the boosted from “2G+” requirements, where a fully vaccinated (geimpft) or recovered (genesen) person also has to get tested to enter certain venues like clubs.
What does the Health Minister want?
In recent days, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach has spoken out in favour of both tighter contact restrictions and a general vaccination requirement. He has not, however, said exactly what he wants the new contact restrictions to be. At the moment, up to ten vaccinated or recovered people are currently allowed to meet for private gatherings.
If an unvaccinated person is present, this limit drops to that person’s old household and up to two people from another household. Children under 14 don’t count towards the total.
Beginning on March 15th, certain employees, such as nurses or others in care professions, will have to begin carrying proof of full vaccination, or a medical certificate confirming they cannot be vaccinated.
Lauterbach has said he wants to extend this requirement to cover the entire population, but such a measure would have to be voted on by the Bundestag—Germany’s federal parliament.
What is most unlikely?
A general vaccination requirement for all German residents, as the Health Minister wants, may be hard to agree to among the federal and state governments, who represent most German political parties and have wide-ranging stances on the issue. Even if they were to come out in support, the Bundestag would still have to vote on such a requirement.
Further lockdowns are also unlikely, with the liberal Free Democrats, led by Christian Lindner and a part of Scholz’s federal government—being particularly opposed to any further lockdowns.
“We want to avoid blanket closures across the board,” Lindner told Stuttgarter Zeitung. “Our goal remains to preserve social life as much as possible and to avoid social damage as far as possible.”
What does the health situation look like at the moment?
Since the beginning of December, Germany has experienced regular record high Covid-19 case numbers, which are up 88 percent compared to a year ago. Even so, hospitalisation rates are down 36 percent compared to a year ago and over 70 percent of the population is fully vaccinated. 40 percent have received a booster shot.
All this is occurring as Omicron is on track to quickly become the dominant variant in Germany. It is already dominant in Schleswig-Holstein and Lower Saxony, and currently accounts for 44 percent of all infections in Berlin.
When will we know the new measures?
An announcement is expected on Friday afternoon after the Corona Summit ends.
Gipfel – Summit
Kontaktbeschränkungen – Contact restrictions
Impfpflicht – Vaccination requirement or obligation