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COVID-19 RULES

Is Germany set to ease or tighten Covid restrictions?

German chancellor Olaf Scholz is meeting with regional leaders on Monday to talk about Covid restrictions in Germany. Here's a look at their draft agreement and what we can expect.

People queue for a PCR test in Berlin's Kreuzberg area on Sunday.
People queue for a PCR test in Berlin's Kreuzberg area on Sunday. There is a huge demand for PCR tests due to rising Covid infections. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Fabian Sommer

What’s happening?

Germany is seeing a steep rise in the number of Covid infections amid the Omicron wave.

On Monday Germany 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. 

However, hospitals are not seeing a similar increase so far, although some scientists say they expect that to happen. Around 3.77 people per 100,000 residents were hospitalised with a Covid infection within the last seven days, according to figures released on Saturday. Germany’s previous peak hospitalisation rate of around 15 was reached in winter 2020.

Chancellor Scholz was set to meet with state leaders on Monday to discuss the next steps of the pandemic. At the last meeting 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. 

READ ALSO: 

The question is: will we see an easing or tightening of restrictions in view of the Omicron wave, or will things stay the same?

What does Germany’s Council of Experts say?

The so-called Corona Council of Experts, which was set up by the German government late last year, has also deliberated and issued a statement before the Federal-Länder meeting.

It advises that the measures currently in place be maintained, and it also advocates that Germany prepare for a further increase in the number of Covid infections.

According to their report, the rising incidences could soon lead to an overload of the healthcare system.

Will there be more stringent measures?

As usual, Covid measures will be discussed at the meeting. In all likelihood, however, no further tightening of rules is expected. 

The draft resolution put together ahead of the crunch talks says that things will mostly continue as they are. And Chancellor Scholz has already made it clear that he sees no reason to change course.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach and several state leaders have also said publicly that they want to maintain the current regulations.

So things look set to stay the same on Covid rules. What about PCR tests?

That’s a good question. PCR tests have been a major topic among German leaders in the past 10 days because demand for tests is outweighing supply, and laboratories are overloaded, especially in Covid hotspots like Berlin.

Health ministers held another meeting over the weekend and agreed that they want to see PCR tests restricted so that vulnerable groups and key workers get priority.

The draft agreement states that priority should be given to the elderly, the previously ill and the immunocompromised, employees in clinics, surgeries, nursing homes and institutions for the integration of people with disabilities.

However, it is still unclear how that would be implemented in practice and when it would come into force. 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. 

For any changes to happen, the current test regulations have to be revised after the federal-state consultations.

A person holds an FFP2 mask in Munich.

A person holds an FFP2 mask in Munich. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Karl-Josef Hildenbrand

According to the draft resolution, the Health Minister is to work out a modified testing regime with his colleagues from the states and adapt the National Testing Strategy and the Coronavirus Testing Ordinance accordingly. The draft proposal also says that the Health Ministry is to also work on expanding PCR testing capacities.

What could change for quarantine rules and contact tracing?

According to the draft proposal, the federal and state governments want to change their strategy on these matters and implement decisions agreed by the health ministers on Saturday.

Due to the sharp rise in the number of infections, health authorities should give priority in future on contact tracing for Covid cases in hospitals, nursing homes, and facilities for people with disabilities.

Who’s calling for Covid rules to be eased?

With the 2G-plus rules in full swing – and causing a lot of confusion among the population due to a lack of clear communication from German authorities – many people are wondering when restrictions may be relaxed.

READ ALSO:

Bavaria’s state premier Markus Söder recently called for an easing of rules, especially “in culture, sport and youth work”.

He told Augsburger Allgemeine that he would not support any tightening of restrictions.

“Omicron is not Delta, so we can’t transfer the measures one-to-one from one mutation to the other,” said Söder. Experts say Omicron generally causes milder illness than Delta in vaccinated people. 

Who doesn’t want to see the rules eased right now?

Scholz spoke out against relaxations.

“In any case, it is certainly not appropriate to relax the rules across the board in the middle of the Omicron wave,” he told the Süddeutsche Zeitung.

The head of the government of North Rhine-Westphalia, Hendrik Wüst (CDU), and his SPD colleagues Manuela Schwesig from Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Stefan Weil from Lower Saxony expressed similar views.

Wüst told the Tagesspiegel that “a signal for large-scale, blanket relaxation would be too early at the moment”.

“Around 1,500 people a week are still dying of corona, and the staff in hospitals are completely exhausted,” Wüst said.

READ ALSO: Fact check: Does Germany really have the world’s strictest Covid measures?

What does the draft agreement say about relaxations?

The federal government and states want to develop plans for easing the restrictions if an overload of critical infrastructure can be ruled out, according to the draft resolution.

However, the details haven’t been fleshed out in the draft so we can expect some discussion on that in the talks. 

Will vaccine mandates be discussed?

This will probably be touched on since it is such a huge and controversial issue in Germany right now.

Germany is set to bring in a vaccine mandate for health care workers in March. A general vaccine mandate is still to be debated and will be voted on in the Bundestag at a later date. 

The draft proposal repeats its appeal for people in Germany to get vaccinated, and urges the federal and state governments to step up their vaccination campaigns. 

Member comments

  1. To be fair. I highly doubt they will reduce restrictions otherwise their vaccine mandates won’t go through. All about big phama profit now.

  2. Personally I think we’ve arrived at the point where further restrictions on those that have been fully vaccinated would be pointless. It’s time to put those that have been fully vaccinated first and to stop pissing around with the anti vaxxers with their so called freedom, individual rights it’s my body bollocks. I’m sick to the teeth of hearing about it

    1. I think we should move them to their own city. Keep them away from the righteous people. The only problem is it would actually cost us in taxes. If only there was a way to answer the un vaccinated question.

      Be careful what you wish for. We are living in times reminiscent of pre war. You allow them to come after people you don’t care about. They’ll be no-one left when they come after something you do care about. We are all people on this little rock called Earth. Showing compassion wouldn’t hurt even if you don’t agree with their views.

      “Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.” Bernard Shaw.

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COVID-19 RULES

EXPLAINED: Germany’s current Covid mask rules

The EU recently recommended that masks no longer be mandatory in air travel - but Germany is not changing those rules, at least for now. Here's what you should know about mask rules in Germany.

EXPLAINED: Germany's current Covid mask rules

People in Germany have been wearing face coverings in lots of public places for around two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But in April, the mask rules were significantly relaxed.

It means that in Germany you currently don’t have to wear a mask (but can on a voluntary basis) in these places:

  • shops and supermarkets
  • restaurants, cafes and bars 
  • cultural buildings including museums and galleries
  • leisure venues, including gyms and cinemas
  • hairdressers and other body-related services

However, businesses can ask customers or visitors to wear a mask so you may find signs on the door of some venues or facilities. 

Some businesses will have a sign with the word Freiwillig (voluntary) and the mask symbol at their entrance, which means customers are encouraged to wear a mask but are not legally obligated to.

That’s the case at the Kleinmarkthalle in Frankfurt’s city centre as shown in this photo. 

A mask sign in Frankfurt.

Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Frank Rumpenhorst

In Germany you still have to wear a mask in these places:

  • on public transport (all buses, trains and trams) and in stations
  • on flights to and from Germany
  • in hospitals and medical practices including doctors’ surgeries 
  • in care facilities, such as care homes for the elderly or other places where there are vulnerable people

What type of mask is required?

FFP2 masks have become standard in Germany, but it depends on the state or business rules. In some areas, medical masks are sufficient. 

But hasn’t the EU relaxed mask rules for flights?

Yes. However, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control’s (ECDC) move to end mandatory masks on flights earlier this month is only a guideline – and the ultimate decision lies with the country. 

A German Health Ministry spokesman told The Local: “The decision on mandatory masks is made by national authorities. The mandatory mask requirement in aircraft therefore continues to apply on all domestic German routes as well as on flights that take off or land in Germany.

“An FFP2 or medical mask must therefore be worn when boarding and disembarking as well as during the entire flight. This may only be removed when eating and drinking. Exceptions to the mask requirement exist for children under six years of age and, for example, for people who are not allowed to wear a mask for medical reasons.”

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

Has there been any confusion on this?

Apparently so. There have been reports of some airlines not pointing out the rules for mask wearing in Germany. 

On at least two of Swiss Airline’s flights from Hamburg and Berlin to Zurich recently, Swiss cabin staff did not let passengers know about the mask requirement, reported German news site Spiegel. That is despite the rule that all travellers have to wear a medical face mask on all flights to and from Germany.

On the flight from Hamburg to Zurich, an estimated 40 percent of the approximately 200 passengers were travelling without face coverings, Spiegel said. When asked about this, the news site reported that a flight attendant said: “We don’t have a mask requirement at Swiss anymore.”

The Swiss airline, which belongs to the Lufthansa Group, lifted the requirement for masks on board at the beginning of April. However, it has to comply with the Covid regulations of the countries it flies to.

A sign telling people to wear a mask at Hamburg airport in February.

A sign telling people to wear a mask at Hamburg airport in February. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jonas Walzberg

One of the problems with the latest round of rules is that the legal situation in Europe varies – while countries such as France, Poland and Switzerland have abolished the obligation to wear masks in the cabin, it remains in force in Germany, and some other places including Spain.

Italy also requires FFP2 masks to be worn until June 15th at the earliest. In total, 14 EU countries still require people on flights to wear masks. 

A spokesperson for Swiss Airlines told Spiegel: “The obligation to wear a mask applies on flights to destinations where it is mandatory. Thus, for example, our guests have to wear the mask on flights to Germany, but not on flights to Switzerland. Our aircrafts are registered in Switzerland, so Swiss legislation also applies on board.”

READ ALSO: Do flights to and from Switzerland require face masks?

So will masks remain mandatory on flights – and on other transport in Germany?

Politicians have been speaking out recently about the possibility of lifting the mandatory mask rule in Germany. 

Germany’s Transport Minister Volker Wissing, for instance, said that he supported getting rid of the mandatory requirement to wear a face mask on public transport in Germany, as well on planes.

But the Health Ministry told The Local that the mask wearing obligation will remain in place as part of the Infection Protection Act until at least September 23rd 2022 – unless the rules are “adapted to the situation”. 

READ ALSO: German politicians row over lifting mandatory Covid mask rule

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