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EXPLAINED: Bavaria to ease some Covid restrictions

The German state of Bavaria has announced some Covid relaxations, including allowing up to 10,000 spectators at major events.

EXPLAINED: Bavaria to ease some Covid restrictions
Bavaria state premier Markus Söder attends the online state cabinet meeting. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Peter Kneffel

Bavaria’s cabinet decided on Tuesday to lift the ban on spectators attending large events like football matches. 

From Thursday onwards, a quarter of seats can be filled at big events – such as football games and major cultural events, head of the Bavarian state chancellory Florian Herrmann (CSU) said in Munich.

However, there are strict rules including that the number of spectators can’t go over 10,000. 

Admission will also be subject to the 2G-plus rule, meaning that only vaccinated/recovered people can attend and they have to either bring evidence of a negative Covid test or be boosted. 

There will also be a ban on alcohol and people will be urged to keep a distance from others.

According to state health minister Klaus Holetschek (CSU), only seating will be allowed, not standing arrangements.

Before Christmas, the federal and state governments had agreed that major events should take place without spectators. However, this was not implemented across all states.

After Chancellor Olaf Scholz and state leaders failed to reach an agreement on this issue at the Covid crunch talks on Monday, Bavaria decided to go in its own way and allow fans into stadiums again.

KEY POINTS: How Germany will tackle latest phase of the Omicron wave

More capacity in culture

Cinemas, theatres and similar venues will be allowed to operate at 50 percent capacity instead of 25 percent.

Herrmann called the change in capacity a “moderate increase that can be well justified”. At the same time, 2G-plus indoors will remain for cultural venues, while the state will stick to 2G entry for hospitality. 

Most other German states have 2G-plus in the hospitality sector meaning that people who have been vaccinated or recovered from Covid have to show proof of their booster shot or a negative Covid test when going to a restaurant or bar.

Bavaria has already got rid of 2G in shops following a court ruling that said the regulation was not clear enough. 

Changes to youth services and driving schools

The cabinet also said that unvaccinated pupils can attend youth services, as well as the vaccinated. Children and young people are regularly tested at school like no other population group, Hermann said. 

Meanwhile, the 3G restriction will apply to exams and classes, as well as theory and practice lessons at driving schools. It means that unvaccinated people will also be able to attend if they have a negative test, as well as those who have vaccinated or have recovered. 

It comes after the federal and state governments agreed to stick with the current Covid measures, with Chancellor Scholz saying it was important to stay on course. 

READ ALSO: Germany to keep current Covid measures – but change testing strategy

However, as has been the case throughout the pandemic, German states tend to interpret agreements in their own way. 

On Twitter, state leader Markus Söder said that the changes being implemented by Bavaria were to “adjust and simplify”.

“But protection remains high with 2G-plus and FFP2 masks,” he said. “Pupils can also make use of all the offers of youth work again thanks to regular school tests, because social participation is important.”

Bavarian state ministers said the occupancy of intensive care beds by Covid-19 patients had dropped by 18 percent within a week. They said the situation would be monitored closely. 

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COVID-19 RULES

Germany to bring in new Covid rules ahead of ‘difficult’ winter

With infection numbers shooting up once again in Germany, states are set to bring in a new set of Covid measures on October 1st.

Germany to bring in new Covid rules ahead of 'difficult' winter

From Saturday, masks will no longer be required on commercial flights, though people will still be expected to wear an FFP2 mask on long-distance trains.

States will also be given the option to introduce mandatory masks in other public indoor spaces, including on local public transport and in schools. If they choose to bring in masks, they’ll also have the freedom to introduce exceptions to masks for people who are recently vaccinated or who have tested negative for Covid.

States will also be able to introduce compulsory testing in schools and nurseries.

READ ALSO: German states likely to keep mask mandate on public transport

Speaking at a press conference alongside Robert Koch Institute (RKI) chair Lothar Wieler on Friday, German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach defended the decision to keep Covid rules in place when other countries in Europe have largely got rid of their pandemic measures. 

“It’s not for me to criticise what other countries are doing,” said Lauterbach. “We have a particularly difficult winter ahead of us due to the energy crisis, we don’t want to make it worse through the Covid crisis.”

The SPD politician also defended plans for mandatory masks for residents and staff in nursing and care homes. Having 40 or 50 vulnerable people together in an enclosed space is “extremely high-risk”, he said. 

Under the new rules set to be introduced on Saturday, residents of care homes will be expected to wear FPP2 masks in all common areas of the home, and will only be able to take them off in their bedrooms.

“For people in nursing homes, the FFP2 mask requirement means a considerable cut in their quality of life,” Regina Görner, chairwoman of the Federal Association of Senior Citizens’ Organisations (Bagso), told DPA:

“The nursing home is their home, in which they can then no longer move freely without a mask.”

Visitors to nursing homes, meanwhile, will have to supply a negative Covid test, while staff will be tested three times a week. 

Under the autumn and winter rules, people across Germany will also be required to wear an FFP2 mask at their doctor’s surgery and in medical outpatient facilities such as hospitals.

“We’re better prepared than last autumn,” Lauterbach told reporters on Friday. “We have the infection numbers under control, we have this wave under control.” 

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS – Germany’s new Covid-19 rules for autumn

Steep rise in cases

As the weather turns colder, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) has reported a steep rise in respiratory infections, including Covid-19.

Last week, the number of Covid patients jumped dramatically from 500,000 to 1.2 million per week, with cases rising significantly in every age group.

Meanwhile, the 7-day incidence of Covid infections per 100,000 people shot up from 409 on Thursday to 466 on Friday. The previous week, the weekly incidence stood at 294 per 100,000 people. 

The numbers are believed to be partially inflated by the ongoing Oktoberfest beer festival, which is being held for the first time since the pandemic started. In Munich, the location of the festival, the weekly incidence is almost 800. 

Speaking at the press conference in Berlin on Friday, RKI chair Wieler warned people not to get complacent about the threat of infection.

“A mild course of illness simply means not ending up in hospital,” he said. “We should be conscious of how much risk we want take on, and how much risk we can avoid.”

RKI chief Lothar Wieler

Robert Koch Institute chair Lothar Wieler (l) and Heath Minister Karl Lauterbach (r) hold a press conference in Berlin on Friday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Wolfgang Kumm

Despite the looming energy crisis, the RKI boss advised the public to ensure that rooms were well ventilated, adding that spaces normally occupied by a large number of people should be aired out more regularly.

He also advised people with Covid symptoms to stay home until they felt better in order to avoid passing on any infections, and warned that people should be especially careful to avoid contact with vulnerable people.

“Just like before, these people need our solidarity,” he said. 

Self-isolation and quarantine rules vary from state to state, but people who test positive for Covid generally have to isolate for a minimum of five days and a maximum of 10.

In some cases, people can take an additional Covid test in order to end their isolation early.

The RKI has also recommended that people wear a mask in public enclosed spaces. 

READ ALSO: What will the Covid situation in Germany look like this autumn?

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