Germany to keep current Covid measures – but change testing strategy

Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Monday that Germany will stick to the current Covid restrictions for now, but PCR tests will be prioritised in future.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz after the federal-state meeting in Berlin.
Chancellor Olaf Schols holds a poster that says 'vaccination helps, even for everyone you love' after the federal-state meeting. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/POOL AP | Hannibal Hanschke

In view of the sharp rise in Covid infections throughout Germany, the federal and state governments want to maintain the current measures, Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) said on Monday after crunch talks with state leaders. 

Earlier in January, leaders tightened restrictions by bringing in the 2G-plus rules to the hospitality industry – meaning people who are vaccinated/recovered have to show proof of a booster shot or a negative Covid test to enter. They also shortened quarantine periods. 

“It is clear to all of us that the direction we have taken will help,” Scholz said after the online meeting.

Germany is seeing record 7-day incidence figures as the Omicron wave hits. 

On Monday, health authorities reported 63,393 Covid infections within the latest 24 hour period and the 7-day incidence stood at 840.3 cases per 100,000 people. 

Scholz said it is still not clear “whether we will have to reckon with a more dramatic situation” due to the Omicron wave, or if Germany will get through it without the need for more restrictions.

He said it was important “that we remain cautious” and “stay the course”. 

READ MORE: Is Germany set to ease or tighten Covid measures?

Change of test strategy

Scholz said the PCR Covid test strategy would be changing due to bottlenecks. 

“Testing must and will be done,” Scholz emphasised. However, due to a shortage of PCR tests – the current capacity is about 300,000 per day – they will be set aside in future for groups such as hospital or care workers and vulnerable people. 

It’s still unclear how this would work in practice. It could be, for instance, that people who receive a positive rapid test or a red alert on the Corona-Warn-app do will not need to take a PCR test for confirmation in future. 

Scholz said a plan for a better supply of PCR tests would also be worked out.

The Chancellor again urged people to get vaccinated, especially to protect vulnerable people and the elderly. He said the government is to relaunch its advertising campaign for jabs.

Just over 75 percent of the German population has received at least one jab. “That has to be much more,” he said, saying Germany was not doing as well as lots of other countries on the vaccination front. 

North Rhine-Westphalia’s state premier Hendrik Wüst, current chair of the so-called Minister-Presidents’ Conference, stressed there would be a two-pronged approach in the pandemic fight.

“We have to look both ways in the coming weeks,” said the CDU politician.

Ministers are to consider the possibility of tightening measures if needed as well as looking at steps for relaxing rules. 

Dispute over Lauterbach’s management

Wüst touched on another point of conflict from the federal-state discussions: the dispute over the seemingly unexpected change in the status of Covid recovered people, which was recently shortened from six months to three.

“Such changes need advance notice,” Wüst said, adding that people in Germany needed a “forward-looking pandemic policy”.

According to German magazine Spiegel, several state premiers complained about the last-minute change of course by Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD), and the problems in communication.

Wüst spoke of the need to continue working constructively and said he didn’t want to “assign blame” to anyone. Scholz said there was a “discussion based on solidarity”, and defended Lauterbach, calling him an “excellent minister”.

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Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

German health ministers say that tougher Covid restrictions should come back into force if a serious wave emerges in autumn.

Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

Following a video meeting on Monday, the health ministers of Germany’s 16 states said tougher restrictions should be imposed again if they are needed. 

“The corona pandemic is not over yet – we must not be deceived by the current declining incidences,” said Saxony-Anhalt’s health minister Petra Grimm-Benne, of the Social Democrats, who currently chairs the Conference of Health Ministers (GMK).

According to the GMK, new virus variants are expected to appear in autumn and winter. Over the weekend, federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) also warned that the more dangerous Delta variant could return to Germany. “That is why the federal Ministry of Health should draw up a master plan to combat the corona pandemic as soon as possible and coordinate it with the states,” Grimm-Benne said.

Preparations should also include an amendment of the Infection Protection Act, ministers urged. They want to see the states given powers to react to the infection situation in autumn and winter. They called on the government to initiate the legislative process in a timely manner, and get the states actively involved.

The current Infection Protection Act expires on September 23rd this year. Germany has loosened much of its Covid restrictions in the last months, however, face masks are still compulsory on public transport as well as on planes. 

READ ALSO: Do people in Germany still have to wear Covid masks on planes?

The health ministers said that from autumn onwards, it should be possible for states to make masks compulsory indoors if the regional infection situation calls for it. Previously, wearing a Covid mask was obligatory in Germany when shopping and in restaurants and bars when not sitting at a table. 

Furthermore, the so-called 3G rule for accessing some venues and facilities – where people have to present proof of vaccination, recovery, or a negative test – should be implemented again if needed, as well as other infection protection rules, the ministers said. 

Bavaria’s health minister Klaus Holetschek, of the CSU, welcomed the ministers’ unanimous call for a revision of the Infection Protection Act. “The states must be able to take all necessary infection protection measures quickly, effectively, and with legal certainty,” he said.

North Rhine-Westphalia’s health minister Karl-Josef Laumann (CDU) warned that no one should “lull themselves into a false sense of security”.

“We must now prepare for the colder season and use the time to be able to answer important questions about the immunity of the population or the mechanisms of infection chains,” he said.

On Tuesday, Germany reported 86,253 Covid infections within the latest 24 hour period, as well as 215 Covid-related deaths. The 7-day incidence stood at 437.6 infections per 100,000 people. However, experts believe there could be twice as many infections because lots of cases go unreported. 

READ ALSO: Five things to know about the Covid pandemic in Germany right now