How Germany's 2G-plus Covid rules have left millions of people confused
Germany's 2G-plus regulations - meaning you have to be vaccinated/recovered and boosted or tested to get into most public places - have left millions of people unsure if they need a test or not, writes Rachel Loxton.
“Is it okay if I go deep into your nose?”
It’s a question I never imagined I’d be asked in my life, but it was even a bit surprising to hear as I sat down to get an antigen test in Berlin on Sunday after waiting in a long queue.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
The woman who was getting ready to test me for Covid-19 explained that inserting the swab further into the nose than usual is better for detecting the Omicron variant.
It was my choice, but adopting the British overly-polite persona that I never seem to be able to shake off I obliged. As she advised me to breathe through my mouth, I let out a little yelp when it felt like she was tickling my brain.
“That really was deep,” I laughed on my way out of the cubicle while the next person was already moving into the chair to get their nose inspected.
Great, I thought. I might have to do this every time I go to a cafe, restaurant, bar or the cinema now.
I say might because I'm not very sure.
Germany’s new 2G-plus rules have left a lot of people suddenly unsure if they have to show an official negative test result to have coffee with a friend.
Under the 2G-plus restrictions, people have to be vaccinated/recovered and have their booster jab to get into many public places. If they don’t have a booster, they need a negative test.
People who are unvaccinated can’t enter at all as was the case under the 2G rules (the Gs standing for geimpft (vaccinated) and genesen (recovered).
But there are lots of unclear points, not least the fact they are open to interpretation depending on the state and on the venue operator.
I got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine last May during a community drive. I picked the J&J queue because it was shorter (people wanted the mRNA vaccine Moderna instead) and I liked the idea of it being a single dose. No queuing for another jab at a later date!
More than three million people in Germany have had J&J, including some vulnerable groups like people in temporary accommodation.
Then German government advice, which surfaced in autumn, said that people who had J&J should get an mRNA jab.
“Oh, we’re getting our booster jab earlier,” I told my friends who had J&J. In November I was “boosted” and felt pleased to have that shot out of the way.
But as The Local has been reporting, the Health Ministry now says that the second mRNA shot was to optimise the basic immunisation, and was not a booster shot.
Authorities recommend a further jab (the real booster shot) three months after the second vaccine.
To complicate matters further, states have different stances on that. Some do count J&J and another shot as being boosted, and some don’t.
The general feedback seems to be that if you’ve had three ‘classic’ shots, there are no issues. But if you’ve had J&J or a Covid infection as well as being vaccinated, it gets more complicated.
Do I need a test or not?
Under the 2G-plus rules which came into force in Berlin on Saturday, I had no idea if I needed a test to get into places, but took it to be on the safe side so I wouldn't be turned away from anywhere.
At a Vietnamese restaurant in Kreuzberg I had to show my vaccination pass, negative test and photo ID (my passport). My friend was granted entry with his NHS digital vaccination pass showing three shots, plus his passport.
In another venue, I showed my vaccination pass and the barkeeper said I didn’t need to show a test.
When I posted about the issues on Twitter, some people reported similar inconsistencies.
One user said: “My understanding is that you don't need a test, but a friend of mine yesterday was denied entry into a bar even if he had J&J + booster, so keine Ahnung (no idea).”
Another Twitter user who doesn’t fall neatly into the neat ‘three jabs’ category said: “We were jabbed twice and got Omicron recently. Denied entry last night.”
Some people said having J&J and an mRNA shot showed as 3/3 shots on their vaccination app, while others (including me) only have 2/2.
My colleague, who also had J&J and another shot in November, said she didn't need to show a test to visit a bar in north Berlin.
The actual testing is not the problem - sticking a swab to the back of your mouth, up your nose and twirling it around has become a normal part of our pandemic routine along with sitting on the sofa watching too much TV. Getting regular tests is a good idea.
But with the tightening and changing of rules, I almost feel like I'm being scolded for not having my "real booster" even though I've followed all the restrictions and orders the government has put in place.
It also gave me an idea of what it must be like for people who can't be vaccinated for medical reasons (and those who choose not to get vaccinated), and might have to get lots of tests. There are long waits at some test centres and a lot of brain tickling.
For me the biggest problem is the lack of clear communication. I can understand why authorities want people to test more. But we need standardised rules throughout Germany (and in plenty of time before new restrictions come into force). And if rules change (like with J&J), we need to be informed, rather than having to search with difficulty for it.
The restrictions also add more stress to visitors to Germany who might not have a digital vaccine passport. The German government still doesn't allow people who don't live in the country to get the EU digital pass, although some pharmacies do give it out.
Germany needs to make it very clear who needs the test in the first place to make sure that testing facilities are available for those who need it most.