Germany considers tighter Covid restrictions in restaurants

German state leaders are considering whether to bring in extra requirements for visiting restaurants, cafes and bars in a bid to slow the spread of the omicron wave.

A restaurant in Berlin with a '2G-plus' sign on the window.
A restaurant in Berlin with a '2G-plus' sign on the window. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jörg Carstensen

Among the topics being discussed by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) and state leaders on Friday is a requirement for the ‘2G-plus’ rule in the hospitality industry. 

The draft document put together ahead of the meeting proposes that from January 15th at the latest, access to catering businesses (restaurants, bars, pubs, cafes and similar) across Germany will only be possible for people who are fully vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19, along with a negative Covid-19 test.

If people can show proof of having a booster jab, they don’t need to show a Covid test. 

READ ALSO: What new Covid-19 rules could Germany announce on Friday?

Before the meeting, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) said he believes more contact restrictions are needed in bars and restaurants because of the more transmissible Omicron variant of Covid-19.

Lauterbach told the German news programme RTL Direkt on Thursday that leaders were considering the 2G-plus rule that would mean people could only enter indoor hospitality areas if they “have been vaccinated twice and tested”.

“Only those who have been boosted will be able to enter (without a test),” he said.

“Hospitality is a problem area,” added Lauterbach. “People often sit there for hours without a mask. And if people there then infect each other, as we see a lot with Omicron, then we need better protection. Hence – 2G-plus – so vaccinated and additionally tested.”

Some businesses have already voluntarily moved to the 2G-plus rule, but this would create a uniform regulation nationwide.

But it’s been met with some opposition. 

The German Hotel and Restaurant Association (Dehoga) slammed the planned introduction of the 2G-plus rule.

The association’s chief executive, Ingrid Hartges, told German daily Bild: “Nationwide 2G-Plus would be a disaster for pubs and restaurants.”

Hartges warned that bar and restaurant owners should not be the ones to suffer if the government “apparently wants to create incentives for the third vaccination (booster)”. 

Hartges called on the federal and state governments to instead expand vaccination and testing capacities “so that this gruelling situation is brought to an end as quickly as possible”.

The Bavarian Hotel and Restaurant Association also rejects 2G-plus in restaurants.

“The planned decision would be tantamount to a quasi-lockdown in January, which is already extremely weak in terms of turnover, and for many establishments it would no longer be profitable to continue opening,” association president Angela Inselkammer said. 

READ ALSO: Top virologist signals support for shortening quarantine in Germany

Can we expect more contact rules?

Lauterbach also did not rule out an extension of – or tougher – contact restrictions.

Currently a maximum of 10 vaccinated and recovered people can meet in private across Germany.

Unvaccinated people are allowed to meet with their own household and a max of two people from another household.

In both cases, under-14s are not included. 

Germany on Friday reported 56,334 Covid cases within the latest 24 hour period, and 264 deaths. The 7-day incidence stood at 303.4 infections per 100,000 people. 

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Bavaria signals end to compulsory masks on public transport

Bavaria's state premier Markus Söder (CSU) has announced plans for a "prompt" end to mandatory masks on buses and trains.

Bavaria signals end to compulsory masks on public transport

If infection levels and hospitalisations remain low, the end of the mask-wearing rule could come as soon as December or January.

“We are convinced that the mask requirement in public transport could also be phased out either in mid-December or early next year, if the numbers remain reasonably stable and there are no new mutations,” Söder explained on Monday, following a meeting with the CSU executive committee. 

A decision on when to end the measure would be made “promptly”, he added.

The CSU politician had said last week that the sinking infection rates meant that compulsory masks were no longer appropriate and that the mandate could be changed to a recommendation. 

No set date for change

The latest version of Bavaria’s Infection Protection Act – which lays out an obligation to wear masks on public transport as one of the few remaining Covid rules – is currently due to expire on December 9th.

State ministers could decide whether to let obligatory masks on buses and trains lapse on this date as early as next week, or they could decide to initially extend the legislation and set an alternative date for ending the rule.

Regardless of their decision, FFP2 masks will continue to be mandatory on long-distance public transport until at least April next year, when the nationwide Infection Protection Act is due to expire.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Germany’s new Covid-19 rules from October

Speaking to Süddeutsche Zeitung on Monday after the meeting of the Council of Ministers, Florian Herrmann (CSU), head of the State Chancellery, confirmed that Covid-19 had been discussed in passing.

However, no decisions or discussions were made on how to proceed after the expiry of the regulation, he said.

According to Herrmann, the fact that Covid was no longer the “dominant topic” in the cabinet under “enormous tension” shows “that we are returning to normality” in a gradual transition from pandemic to endemic. 

As of Wednesday, the 7-day incidence of Covid infections per 100,000 people stood at 108 in Bavaria, down from 111 the previous day. However, experts have cast doubt on how meaningful the incidence is in light of the fact that fewer people are taking tests.

Nevertheless, the 133 hospital beds occupied by Covid patients in the Free State falls well below the 600 threshold for a ‘red alert’. With Omicron causing less severe courses of illness than previous variants, politicians have increasingly focussed on hospitalisation statistics to gauge the severity of the situation.

‘A risk-benefit trade-off’

Bavaria is the second federal state to announce plans to relax its mask-wearing rules in recent weeks.

On November 14th, the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein announced that it would be ending obligatory FFP2 masks on public transport and urged other states to do the same. From January 2023, masks on public transport will only be recommended rather than mandated for passengers on local buses and trains. 

However, the Federal Ministry of Health has urged states not to loosen their rules too quickly.

Given that infection rates are likely to spike again in winter, “there’s no basis for loosening restrictions”, said Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD).

Physicians are also split on whether an end to masks on public transport is appropriate.

READ ALSO: Will Germany get rid of masks on public transport?

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) speaks at the German Hospital Day in Düsseldorf on November 14th. Lauterbach is against the lifting of the mask-wearing rule. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Roberto Pfeil

Christoph Spinner, a virologist at the University Hospital in Munich, told Süddeutsche Zeitung he believed it was time to put the decision on mask-wearing back into the hands of individuals.

“Why not? The incidences are low, the danger of Covid-19 has dropped significantly and mortality has also decreased,” he said. 

But the Bavarian General Practitioners’ Association spoke out against the move, arguing that – unlike a trip to a restaurant or cinema – people often have no choice but to travel on public transport.

“If the obligation to wear a mask in public transport is maintained, this will help to protect against a Covid infection on the way to work by bus or train – especially in view of the discontinuation of the obligation to isolate in the event of a Covid infection,” they explained.

Bavaria is one of four states to have recently ended mandatory isolation for people who test positive for Covid. Baden-Württemberg and Schleswig-Holstein both scrapped their isolation mandate last week, while Hesse removed its obligation on Tuesday. 

READ ALSO: Four German states call for end to mandatory Covid isolation