Berlin tightens Covid rules: What you need to know

Germany's states are toughening up Covid restrictions by expanding 2G-plus, and in Berlin mask rules are changing.

People in Berlin's Hauptbahnhof U-Bahn station.
People in Berlin's Hauptbahnhof U-Bahn station. From Saturday mandatory FFP2 masks apply on public transport. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Annette Riedl

Germany’s federal government and states agreed to tighten Covid restrictions last week in a bid to slow down the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19. 

Now regions are amending legislation to allow for these changes, which include tougher rules to enter restaurants, bars and cafes and quarantine changes. 

Here’s a look at what applies to Berlin, which saw the 7-day incidence climb to a new high of 918.6 Covid-19 infections per 100,000 people on Thursday.

FFP2 masks become compulsory

From Saturday January 15th, it will be compulsory to wear an FFP2 mask while riding buses, trains or trams. 

Previously, people could also wear a medical mask, and it was only recommended that they wear a more protective FFP2 mask. But this will now become a requirement. 

The state wants to distribute 1.4 million FFP2 masks free of charge to people in financial difficulties in the coming days. They are to be handed out via districts, homeless assistance teams and refugee shelters.

Those who have a “Berlinpass”, which is given to welfare recipients, will also be entitled to them. Trainees can also get free FFP2 masks. The aim is to give out masks to people without bureaucratic hurdles.

The Senate has not ruled out introducing compulsory FFP2 masks in retailers in future. At the moment people can also use a cheaper medical mask while shopping. 

A year ago during the second Covid wave, Germany brought in a regulation that meant people had to wear a surgical or FFP2 mask while travelling on public transport or shopping. Cloth masks are generally not allowed in indoor public places. Some states went further by mandating FFP2 masks only. 

2G-plus in the hospitality industry and at events

The 2G-plus regulation goes further than that decided by the federal and state governments.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz and state leaders announced last Friday that 2G-plus will apply to restaurants, bars, cafes and similar places. It means that vaccinated and recovered people need to show a Covid-19 test or proof they’ve had a booster shot to enter. 

In Berlin, it includes visits to restaurants, pubs and other catering establishments as well as cultural, recreational and sporting events plus other indoor events.

2G-plus in Berlin applies to events with 10 or more participants under the new restrictions. 

Entry is only granted to those who, in addition to vaccination or recovery (2G), can present a negative test result (test must be no more than 24 hours old). Those who have received a booster vaccination do not need to take a test. Children under the age of 14 are exempt from the regulation.

But keep in mind that private sports activities in clubs or fitness studios are not affected, Health Senator Ulrike Gote (Greens) said. 

Businesses not affected can, however, choose to implement the rules anyway. 

“We want the restaurants to be able to stay open,” said Berlin mayor Franziska Giffey (SPD). “We have a lot of people sitting together there. That’s why we took this protective step today.”

READ ALSO: What we know so far about Germany’s 2G-plus rules for restaurants

Expansion of rules

In the culture sector, testing for vaccinated and recovered people was already compulsory for all events in Berlin with 200 or more visitors.

So here the picture is mixed: the 2G-plus rule now applies to as few as 10 people, which is a tightening of rules – but boosted people will be exempt from it, which means a relaxation for them.

Quarantine shortening

New quarantine rules came into force in Berlin on Friday January 14th.  

The German government and states agreed on shortening quarantine times last week.

The move is intended to help critical infrastructure function in the event of high numbers of Covid infections fuelled by Omicron. This includes the health service, police and fire brigade, energy and water suppliers.

Contacts of Covid-infected people are exempt from quarantine if they are boosted, recently double-vaccinated or have had a single vaccination and have recovered.

For others, isolation or quarantine should normally end after 10 days, unless they end the period earlier with a negative PCR or antigen test after seven days. 

Employees in hospitals and nursing homes require a PCR test and must have been symptom-free for at least 48 hours.

If children and young people are contacts to someone infected with Omicron, they can end the isolation after only five days with a negative PCR or a rapid antigen test.

On Friday the Bundesrat, which represents the states, is expected to pass the changes to quarantine laws.

Originally, the Berlin Senate said it wanted to wait until the changes took effect at the federal level. 

But on Thursday Senator Ulrike Gote (Greens) said the new quarantine rules would come into force on Friday.

We updated this article on Friday to include the news on quarantine changes.

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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?