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COVID-19 RULES

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

From keeping the 2G-plus rules in place to prioritising PCR tests, here's what you should know about Germany's latest Covid decisions.

People queue for a Covid test in Munich.
People queue for a Covid test in Munich. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Peter Kneffel

What did the government and states say?

“The Omicron wave has reached Germany,” said the government and states in their agreement after their Monday meeting. “The new variant of the SARS-CoV-2- virus (coronavirus) is spreading very rapidly.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz and the German state leaders said they would stick with the current strict Covid regulations, but there will be some changes, especially with regards to the testing strategy.

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

“The measures in place to reduce the number of contacts and the cautious behaviour of citizens has initially slowed down the steep rise, which can be observed in other countries,” they said, adding that experts believe there will be a further increase in the number of infections.

Authorities say the Omicron variant is currently spreading more among the younger population, and it is unclear how things will develop when the wave reaches the older age groups. 

“The extent of the hospital burden will depend decisively on the number of cases in the group of unvaccinated adults over the age of 50,” the government and states said. “These numbers are currently still comparatively low.

“If there is a threat of the health system being overloaded”, the federal and state governments will “agree on further-reaching measures for infection control”.

Here’s an overview: 

2G-plus and contact restrictions remain in place

As before, vaccinated and recovered people must provide proof of a negative Covid test or a booster vaccination (the 2G-plus rule) when entering restaurants, bars or similar facilities. Some states and private businesses have also widened this rule to include leisure and cultural venues.

Unvaccinated people will continue to be barred from entry.

Meanwhile, a maximum of 10 vaccinated/recovered people can meet for private gatherings, as decided previously.

For unvaccinated and non-recovered people, only members of their own household and a max of two people from another household are allowed to meet.

READ ALSO: How Germany’s 2G-plus Covid rules have left millions of people confused

Access to PCR tests restricted

This is one of the major changes to the regulations. 

PCR tests are to be set aside for staff “especially in hospitals, in surgeries, in nursing and in institutions for integration assistance” as well as for high-risk patients due to the high demand. 

The federal and state health ministers are to work out a new testing strategy. However, PCR testing capacities are also to be increased.

Olaf Scholz after the meeting with state leaders.

Olaf Scholz after the meeting with state leaders. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/POOL AP | Hannibal Hanschke

The change will likely mean that people who get a positive antigen or self test, or receive a red warning in the Corona-Warn-app will not have to get a PCR test in future. 

However, it is unclear, for example, whether PCR test restrictions would also affect privately paid tests that are necessary for travel abroad. It is also not clear what this would mean for the recovery status.

People only have recovery status in Germany with evidence of a positive PCR test. 

We’ll keep you updated when we get more information. 

Changes in contact tracing

The Omicron wave is causing the number of cases to explode to such an extent that in many German districts, the health offices can’t keep up with contact tracing.

Therefore, as with PCR testing, there is to be prioritisation. Health ministers will work out a plan to deal with this. 

Citizens are also called upon to help. “They should inform their (Covid) contacts on their own, and use the available electronic tools for contact tracing,” the agreement says. 

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

Changes to quarantine and isolation rules

Again, the rules are changing in part because of the shortage of PCR tests. Soon, the general rules for isolation will also apply to Covid-hit employees in hospitals and care facilities.

This means that isolation after a proven infection can be ended after seven days by a rapid antigen test (rather than a PCR test) if the patient is symptom-free for 48 hours. Without a test, isolation ends after 10 days. 

When having to quarantine as contacts of someone with Covid, it will now also be possible for this group to end the quarantine with a negative antigen test after seven days. People who’ve had booster shots, or are recently vaccinated or recovered are excluded from quarantine if they are contact persons with no symptoms.

READ ALSO: Germany’s new rules and exceptions for Covid quarantine 

Possible changes to major events

In some states, large events like football games currently take place entirely without spectators, while others allow a certain number of spectators.

The states now want to reach a uniform agreement. By February 9th a regulation should be in place that applies nationwide.

Vaccination plea

Among the older population, the proportion of unvaccinated people is “still very high at around three million people”, the agreement between the government and states says.

They renewed their appeal to all those still choosing not to get vaccinated to reconsider their decision.

Next meeting in February 

The Chancellor and state leaders are scheduled to meet on February 16th “unless the infection situation makes an earlier meeting necessary”.

When will we see an easing of restrictions?

The government and states say they will develop a plan for easing the rules to be put in place when “an overburdening of the health system can be ruled out”.

Member comments

  1. remind me how it can be that all of these measures are decided FOR us, and not with our consent? how is it that in a supposedly free democracy the electorate has absolutely no input regarding these rules and restrictions that affect all of us in our daily lives on every level? when will the citizens be asked what they want their government, whom they elect and financially support, to adopt? because in two years it hasn’t yet happened once.

    1. Because Germany isn’t a Swiss-Style direct democracy, which has regular referenda on theee points. That would require constitutional changes (not taking a position on whether that’s a good idea).

    1. It’s been pointed out to you several time that hospitalisations and deaths lag the infections by several weeks. Every country going through Omicron wave eventually experienced increase in both – and Germany haven’t even gotten to the peak of this wave yet.

      1. The numbers of in hospital. Intensive care. And deaths have been dropping. For over five weeks.

        10/12/21 – intensive bed numbers peaked never reaching more than 25% of intensive care bed available.
        14/12/21 – deaths peaked

        Scince these dates the numbers have been going down. All previous waves have had a lead time of around 3 weeks. From onset of symptoms. Progression to serious illness and death. For omicron. Nothing. It has been 6 weeks. In most other countries they have not seen huge, if any increases. The countries who have fared worse with covid are the ones with the strictest restrictions.

        https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/germany/#graph-cases-daily

  2. UK figures dropping dramatically despite no restrictions. Football Stadiums are full to capacity. No Nazi pass required to enter indoor facilities. Im hoping for a Foreign invasion to liberate us! Can anyone hear or help us out there?!

    1. I agree with your point but calling it a Nazi pass in Germany is a criminal offence, trivializing the holocaust, more importantly calling everything and everyone you disagree with a nazi cheapens to the word to nothingness. I can call you an idiot or a nazi and believe it or not there is a world of difference there.

      1. Bob Abroad. Just to clarify calling anyone or anything a Nazi is not a criminal offence.

        Germany has outlawed the glorification of Nazism. But no law forbids calling someone a Nazi.

        What is illegal is what German law refers to as “hurting someone’s honor” — in this sense meaning somebody’s worth — or hurting someone’s reputation through verbal abuse. Violating this principle constitutes slander.

        By my understanding of the law (basic could be used as an overstatement). If used in the way of satire it appears to be fine.

        In April 2017 two lawsuits — one against the AfD’s Alice Weidel and the other against Green politician Volker Beck — gave more leeway to satire and political freedom. In Weidel’s case, a Hamburg court threw out her cease-and-desist request against a show that had called her a “Nazi bitch,” since it was clearly satire. 

        Beck lost a slander case in which a far-right politician called him Obergauleiter of hordes of members of the Nazi paramilitary SA. The nation’s top court reversed an earlier regional court ruling because the two politicians had been involved in a verbal sparring match. Thus, the words against Beck were considered polemical rather than slanderous.

        I like to think of it in the form of vodermot in Harry potter. saying he who can not be named gave him more power than just saying his name. Making Hitler and Nazism the but of the joke I like to think upsets Hitler in which ever corner of hell that buggy sits.

        This takes nothing away from the genocide that was committed on everyone not only the Jews.
        Just my 2 cents.

        1. Wow, thanks for the detailed comment, I remember hearing a bit about that on the news.

          There was a great meme a few years back about wanting to grow up and be hitler, it beautfully encapsulated the issue with labelling everyone a Nazi, unfortunately I can’t find it anymore. Post it to FB and offended a bunch of my friends. I think a better choice of words might be fascism or similar word. Gets the point across without the baggage

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COVID-19 RULES

Bavaria signals end to compulsory masks on public transport

Bavaria's state premier Markus Söder (CSU) has announced plans for a "prompt" end to mandatory masks on buses and trains.

Bavaria signals end to compulsory masks on public transport

If infection levels and hospitalisations remain low, the end of the mask-wearing rule could come as soon as December or January.

“We are convinced that the mask requirement in public transport could also be phased out either in mid-December or early next year, if the numbers remain reasonably stable and there are no new mutations,” Söder explained on Monday, following a meeting with the CSU executive committee. 

A decision on when to end the measure would be made “promptly”, he added.

The CSU politician had said last week that the sinking infection rates meant that compulsory masks were no longer appropriate and that the mandate could be changed to a recommendation. 

No set date for change

The latest version of Bavaria’s Infection Protection Act – which lays out an obligation to wear masks on public transport as one of the few remaining Covid rules – is currently due to expire on December 9th.

State ministers could decide whether to let obligatory masks on buses and trains lapse on this date as early as next week, or they could decide to initially extend the legislation and set an alternative date for ending the rule.

Regardless of their decision, FFP2 masks will continue to be mandatory on long-distance public transport until at least April next year, when the nationwide Infection Protection Act is due to expire.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Germany’s new Covid-19 rules from October

Speaking to Süddeutsche Zeitung on Monday after the meeting of the Council of Ministers, Florian Herrmann (CSU), head of the State Chancellery, confirmed that Covid-19 had been discussed in passing.

However, no decisions or discussions were made on how to proceed after the expiry of the regulation, he said.

According to Herrmann, the fact that Covid was no longer the “dominant topic” in the cabinet under “enormous tension” shows “that we are returning to normality” in a gradual transition from pandemic to endemic. 

As of Wednesday, the 7-day incidence of Covid infections per 100,000 people stood at 108 in Bavaria, down from 111 the previous day. However, experts have cast doubt on how meaningful the incidence is in light of the fact that fewer people are taking tests.

Nevertheless, the 133 hospital beds occupied by Covid patients in the Free State falls well below the 600 threshold for a ‘red alert’. With Omicron causing less severe courses of illness than previous variants, politicians have increasingly focussed on hospitalisation statistics to gauge the severity of the situation.

‘A risk-benefit trade-off’

Bavaria is the second federal state to announce plans to relax its mask-wearing rules in recent weeks.

On November 14th, the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein announced that it would be ending obligatory FFP2 masks on public transport and urged other states to do the same. From January 2023, masks on public transport will only be recommended rather than mandated for passengers on local buses and trains. 

However, the Federal Ministry of Health has urged states not to loosen their rules too quickly.

Given that infection rates are likely to spike again in winter, “there’s no basis for loosening restrictions”, said Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD).

Physicians are also split on whether an end to masks on public transport is appropriate.

READ ALSO: Will Germany get rid of masks on public transport?

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) speaks at the German Hospital Day in Düsseldorf on November 14th. Lauterbach is against the lifting of the mask-wearing rule. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Roberto Pfeil

Christoph Spinner, a virologist at the University Hospital in Munich, told Süddeutsche Zeitung he believed it was time to put the decision on mask-wearing back into the hands of individuals.

“Why not? The incidences are low, the danger of Covid-19 has dropped significantly and mortality has also decreased,” he said. 

But the Bavarian General Practitioners’ Association spoke out against the move, arguing that – unlike a trip to a restaurant or cinema – people often have no choice but to travel on public transport.

“If the obligation to wear a mask in public transport is maintained, this will help to protect against a Covid infection on the way to work by bus or train – especially in view of the discontinuation of the obligation to isolate in the event of a Covid infection,” they explained.

Bavaria is one of four states to have recently ended mandatory isolation for people who test positive for Covid. Baden-Württemberg and Schleswig-Holstein both scrapped their isolation mandate last week, while Hesse removed its obligation on Tuesday. 

READ ALSO: Four German states call for end to mandatory Covid isolation

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