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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.

A sign on a restaurant in Dresden says entry is only for people who are vaccinated, recovered with a booster or a negative test.
A sign on a restaurant in Dresden says entry is only for people who are vaccinated, recovered with a booster or a negative test. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Robert Michael

“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. 

A restaurant in Kronberg am Taunus, Hesse, advertises 2G-plus rules.

A restaurant in Kronberg am Taunus, Hesse, advertises 2G-plus rules. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Frank Rumpenhorst

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. 

READ ALSO: 2G-plus: What people who’ve had the J&J jab in Germany need to know

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. 

Better communication 

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.

OPINION: The pandemic has revealed Germany’s deep obsession with rules and compliance

Member comments

  1. If you have received the J&J vaccine plus 1 extra mRNA jab your certificate should say 2/2. Once you have received the further dose after another 3 months you should then have a certificate that says 3/3.

  2. “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. ”

    Congratulations to the author. In 3 months they’ll be classed as unvaccinated and can join the unvaccinated in lockdown”
    Following all these covid rules will only guarantee we stay with this world where the government can just take your freedom when they see fit. At a whim.
    But clutching all your documents and smart phone while hoping you don’t get turned away by some over zealous security guard that himself doesn’t know the rules, does sound like fun. Bit like a freedom lottery. Also, Feeling guilty while hoping a complete stranger might find you guilty of not keeping up with the dictats of the fourth reich.stinks of freedom.

  3. Concerned my CDC card (I’m vaxxed/boosted = 3 shots) will not be accepted as proof. Vaccinated visitors from the States have reported being denied entry to retail activities as some owners only accept EU digital pass and require those who have it to get tested.

    These archaic protocols only sow more confusion. Endless vaccines/boosters are clearly not working in promoting confidence to return to some semblance of normal life again.

  4. I had J&J, then a ‘booster’, then caught Covid (I’m just out of isolation). I don’t know whether or not it’s a health risk for me to now get another ‘booster’ so soon. Technically I don’t think I need it for protection against Covid, but I would need it to go to a restaurant… The rules and guidelines are not clear at all

    1. I would suggest that if you don’t think you need the booster. Don’t get it. Do your own research and make your own decision. From my understanding ( natural immunity is better than vaccination).
      I would not be getting a medical treatment so that I could go to a restaurant though.

  5. I don’t understand the logic behind the flat “everyone needs a booster” rule. It should be when you had your last shot. Why wouldn’t a freshly vaccinated person be able to do everything that a “boostered” person can do?

    1. That’s actually one of the rules here in NRW, where they’ve made things even more complicated. If you’re freshly vaccinated (less than 90 days ago) then you don’t need a booster shot or a negative test to be allowed into a 2G+ venue. Same applies for fully vaccinated people who have had covid in the last 90 days (but more than 28 days ago).
      I think it’s a fair way of doing things, but definitely makes the already complicated 2G+ rules even more complicated.

  6. So in Lower Saxony the Pub I visit can decide to follow the 2G or 2G+ rule. If they only allow 70% capacity then they can follow 2G rules, if they want to use 100% then they have to follow 2G+.
    The problem is you never know what system they are using until you turn up at the Pub.

  7. I was J + J’d in June, I had my booster today.

    I was slightly worried that the doctor said I may have to explain to people that as my app says 2/2, I am boosted. This worries me as a) I am not confident in my German enough to relay this to people and b) a cafe, club or museum visit may become complicated by somebody not understanding how the process works, and we know the people in Germany are pernickety over anything official.

    I wish my fellow 2/2ers the best of luck.

  8. I’ve decided its not worth going to eat out or hit the pool until this nonsense passes. I’m not going to boost my kids. If the vaccine doesn’t prevent infection (seems the case with Omicron) and children between 12-17 have virtually a 0% of getting sick enough to die or even hit the hospital, but have a better chance of having myocarditis, why are we pushing boosters on kids? I got them both vaccinated as the science at the time seem to imply they wouldn’t get infected or infect others. I got my booster as did others in my office. Nonetheless, 2/3 tested positive for COVID last week. Most had no symptoms or very mild ones. Less than a standard cold. Kids vaccinated, tested 3 days a week, and STILL have to wear a mask every day ALL day. When will this madness stop?

  9. Echoes from history. ‘Trust us, we’re the Government. It’s for the greater good.’ Somebody needs to point out to the German Govt ( and it clearly won’t be the EU ) that a democracy is more than just a voting system. A lot more. For one thing , it means Government operating by consent and persuasion. It may be slower, messier and less certain than diktat but that’s democracy.

  10. What I find frustrating is that Germany is (yet again) behind the curve on the science when it comes to getting boosters after an infection. The US CDC and Australia DoH say that people should get boosted as soon as they are symptom-free post-infection. However, Germany still does not let us get boosted until 3 months after infection. So that means for 3 months, more visits to test centers (where we continue to expose ourselves to potentially infected/contagious individuals) as well as coughing up 20€ per extra rapid test in a week if we want to be 2G+ compliant. Is it any surprise that the populous is confused, frustrated and pushing back against everything the government is telling us?

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OPINION: Germany’s autumn Covid rules are a giant mess beyond parody

As other European countries appear to have left the stress of strict Covid rules long behind them, Germany is gearing up to introduce a new and even more complicated patchwork of measures in autumn. Brian Melican asks whether, at this stage, the restrictions are really proportionate to the risks.

OPINION: Germany's autumn Covid rules are a giant mess beyond parody

In just under a month’s time, on September 23rd, the current Infection Protect Act will expire – only to be replaced with an even more complicated and pointless successor. Yes: the new act made it through cabinet on Wednesday and looks likely to pass Bundestag in a few weeks. But it will only actually enter into force on October 1st, leaving a potentially 7-day gap in which what happens is unclear, but will – this being Germany – probably involve excessive amounts of mask-wearing and lateral-flow-testing.

READ ALSO: What we know so far about Germany’s autumn Covid rules

Whatever happens, though, Munich will, after a two-year hiatus, be celebrating a bumper Oktoberfest, from September 17th to October 3rd. Over the course of these two weeks, an estimated six million people will crowd into the tents and beer gardens of the city’s Theresienwiese, consuming an average of 1.13 litres of beer with 0.08 roast chickens per head and exchanging quadrillions of virus particles every minute. All of which will be legal under the current set of legislation – and will remain legal under the replacement.

What probably won’t be legal (who knows quite yet with the confusing set of rules proposed), is to use the Munich U-Bahn without wearing a mask on your way to and from Oktoberfest. At the same time, statistically speaking, you are quite likely to be among the 92 percent of people in Germany who already, as of late July, carried antibodies against Sars-COV2 (see this study by the RKI) – a figure which, if the number of people I know who have just had Covid is anything to go by, is likely to have increased further to almost 100 percent by mid-September. This makes a mockery of the term ‘Infection Protection Act’ – and also explains why hospitalisations from Covid are low, intensive care bed occupation even lower, and deaths half of what they were six months back.

People wear FFP2 masks on the U-Bahn in Munich in December 2021.

People wear FFP2 masks on the U-Bahn in Munich in December 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sven Hoppe

This is all very good news, and forms part of a Europe-wide success story based on an unprecedented vaccine delivery programme and the fortuitously mild Omicron variant. In all of our neighbouring countries, it has been taken as such. Denmark, for instance, has now been living (and living very well) without any form of Covid restrictions for nearly six months. Later in spring, every country around us that had not already done so quietly confined coronavirus to the realm of regrettable endemic illness. Has the sky fallen in on them? No. Are their health services on their knees? No. Are ours? Also no. Yet in Germany, we are still intent on replacing one set of vestigial busy-body public health rules with another set of even more convoluted ones. 

READ ALSO: Opinion – Why Germany can’t break out of its Covid rules rut

‘Beyond parody’

Without going too deeply into the details of what the tripartite coalition has planned (neither you nor I have all day, and said details are still subject to change), suffice to say that the new Infection Protection Act is so stereotypically German that it’s beyond parody. 

Federalism and buck-passing? Check! As ever, the 16 states will be able to more or less set their own rules while demanding that Berlin does the dirty work. Fiendishly complex systems destined to fail on first contact with reality? You bet! As of September, states will be able to reintroduce compulsory mask-wearing indoors – but can make exceptions for people who have just had a booster jab or get a negative test result (but only in restaurants, bars, and other leisure settings); the same might apply in hospitals and care homes, but definitely not in primary schools (although maybe in secondary schools); states may also choose to drop mask requirements on local transport, but they will be ramped up to FFP2 on all intercity train services and flights (unless, of course, you’re flying Olaf Airways and have Frequent Habeck Status…)

If, however, the situation deteriorates (as defined by criteria yet to be announced) these exceptions will all be removed and we go nuclear (i.e. outdoor mask-wearing). This is a phase shift which, to complete our round of German Bullshit Bingo, is explained/further muddied by a niche automotive analogy: summer tires (“Go about your business as usual, but don’t forget your FFP2.”) vs. winter tires (“Oh no…”), with an optional escalation to snow chains (“We’re all doomed! Doomed, I tells ye!”). Want to laugh-cry? Try Karl Lauterbach’s overly complicated PowerPoint slide (pictures below in a tweet) or Marco Buschmann’s half-hearted attempt at defending the madness yesterday morning on Deutschlandfunk.

In short, the new law pours all of our quirks and foibles into a form so perfectly potty it looks like satirist Jan Böhmermann brought Harald Schmidt out of retirement before teaming up with the ghost of that great observer of German national neuroses, Loriot, to poke fun at us.

Which begs the question: why are we about to do this? And why are we going to do it in such a patently crazy, borderline unenforceable way?

The two sides of Germany’s Covid rules

First: why are we doing this? The short answer to that is: Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD). For whatever reason (and I don’t think it’s fair to speculate too much about personality traits), Lauterbach is more afraid of what Covid might do to the population – and less afraid of the corrosive societal effect of lasting restrictions – than other ministers with his brief in comparable countries. It could turn out, of course, that Lauterbach is right: if the “killer variant” he prophesises does surface this autumn, I and a lot of others will be doing public penance.

My hunch is, though, that the German Health Minister doesn’t have a direct line to a secret source of Covid wisdom and can’t see into the future: his change of position on whether everyone should get a fourth jab or just the over-60s proves as much. Instead, he and a few others around him (notably the Green’s health spokesman Janosch Dahmen) are probably seeing exactly the same facts and figures as their counterparts in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden… (as well as many German virologists and epidemiologists in favour of scrapping restrictions), but drawing wildly different conclusions.

Second: if we’re doing this, why are we doing it in such a complicated way? The short answer to that is: Federal Justice Minister Marco Buschmann (FDP). He and most of his party – the (emphasis on) Free Democrats – are not in favour of endless restrictions without justification. And, as it turns out, neither is our constitution. And I for one am pleased that, after being first ignored and then laxly interpreted for over two years, our cherished Grundgesetz is now once again being taken seriously.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) and Marco Buschmann (FDP), fist bump at the press conference on Wednesday.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) and Marco Buschmann (FDP), fist bump at the press conference on Wednesday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Wolfgang Kumm

One of its guiding principles is that curbs to the freedoms it guarantees must be a) proportionate and b) appropriate: as Buschmann has argued, forcing people triply-vaccinated against and twice recovered from Covid to cover their mouth and nose when entering a restaurant is, at this stage of proceedings, no longer proportionate nor appropriate, and so states will be allowed (read: encouraged) to keep restrictions light here. Why the same doesn’t apply to trains or planes is anyone’s guess – here’s mine: political horse-trading to reach a compromise; or perhaps a shrewd FDP move to finally see off restrictions by making them so inconsistent that they represent easy prey for complaints to the Constitutional Court this autumn. 

Ah yes, this autumn. What a wonderful place Germany will be, with the lights switched off in high streets and those who can no longer afford to heat their flats being held up on the doors to bars as they desperately search for the long-neglected CovPass app so that they can at least gain access to the warm fug without having to run back home for their grubby FFP2… So if you weren’t yet planning to head to Munich for the Oktoberfest this year, my advice would to hightail it down there for one last blow-out before things get really unpleasant.