German politicians spar over Covid exit strategy

After neighbouring Denmark eased all Covid restrictions, more German politicians and experts are talking about how and when Covid rules could be eased in the Bundesrepublik - with lots of differing opinions.

A restaurant in Berlin with a sign telling customers about the 2G-plus rules.
A restaurant in Berlin with a sign telling customers about the 2G-plus rules. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Soeren Stache

Justice Minister Marco Buschmann said he believed Covid restrictions could be eased next month. 

“I hope that many protective measures can be withdrawn in March,” the FDP politician told the Rheinische Post on Wednesday.

The prerequisite for this is that “the number of cases will fall again from mid-February”, as predicted by the Robert Koch Institute (RKI).

He also said that any new virus variants would change the situation. 

READ ALSO: ‘Hard to keep up’: Your verdict on Germany’s ever-changing Covid rules

However, top virologist Christian Drosten warned that the situation between Denmark – which eased all restrictions this week – and Germany cannot be compared one-on-one.

He said Denmark had achieved higher vaccination coverage than Germany. 

“One thing that has not changed is the vaccination gap (in Germany),” Drosten told the NDR ‘Coronavirus Update’ podcast. “The vaccination rate in Germany has even dropped again recently.”

Drosten said he expected restrictions in Germany to continue until Easter, which falls in mid-April.

“We clearly have evidence that the transmissions in Germany are currently being fed by school activities,” said Drosten. “The Easter holidays will put a stop to that at the latest.

“Furthermore, it will be warmer after Easter and the incidence will probably not pick up as much.”

Drosten said the new subtype of the Omicron variant – BA.2 – is causing uncertainty. It is still not widespread in Germany, but data from Denmark suggests the subtype could spread even more easily than the original, said Drosten.

Germany is seeing a spike in infections amid the Omicron wave, but hospitalisations are not rising as steeply as in previous waves. Experts say the Omicron variant of Covid-19 generally causes milder illness in people. 

On Wednesday, Germany reported 208,498 infections and 196 deaths within the latest 24 hour period.

The 7-day incidence stood at 1,227.5 infections per 100,000 people. 

‘Right time to discuss’

Chancellor Olaf Scholz and state leaders decided to extend Germany’s strict Covid rules that include a ban on unvaccinated people taking part in most of public life, and require vaccinated/recovered people to show proof of a booster shot or negative test to enter many places. Clubs are also closed, and there are contact restrictions in place. 

Leaders are due to meet again on February 16th, but calls have been growing louder in recent days demanding a plan for Germany to reopen public life soon.

READ ALSO: Calls grow for Germany to ease Covid rules

Bremen’s mayor Andreas Bovenschulte (SPD) said he didn’t think restrictions should be relaxed right now – but argued that it had to be talked about.

“Since we have a stable situation in the hospitals at the moment, I think it is the right time to discuss relaxations – not yet to implement them,” he said.

For Bovenschulte, Denmark’s approach is “too bold a step”, but he said there is a need for action “at an appropriate speed”.

Alexander Dobrindt, head of the CSU parliamentary group, called for decisions on easing Covid rules before the end of February.

He told German daily Welt that hospital occupancy must be the guiding yardstick for policy.

“We still need measures like the mask requirement. But we have to present a perspective to reduce the restrictions of daily life bit by bit – in trade, in gastronomy, in culture, sports, leisure,” said the CSU politician.

Head of the German Hospital Association (DKG), Gerald Gaß, supported relaxations being discussed, but warned: “That doesn’t mean that openings should be made now.”

There could only be relaxations when the peak of the Omicron wave had passed, and hospitals were not overburdened, Gaß told the Rheinische Post. “At the moment it looks good.”

Member comments

  1. Omicron B2. Is by the looks of it. More transmissible but even less dangerous than the original Omicron.
    Germany has a comparable vaccination rate of the UK (which is fully open without restrictions).
    We have mounting evidence that opening up is the right thing to do.
    That all restrictions have had negative impact on peoples lives and livelihoods.

    Its obviously all about the vaccine now. They can’t remove restrictions otherwise a vaccine mandate won’t go through. Thats why they are just ignoring everything.

    Never again.

  2. These restrictions will go in perpetuity unless people push back. If not COVID, then the flu, or some other infectious bacteria strain or virus will emerge to continue restrictions. We don’t live in a world that’s risk free from disease nor will we ever.

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

With the EU changing its Covid recommendations for flights, there is some confusion around whether people boarding a plane in Germany will still need to wear a mask. Here's what we know so far.

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

As of Monday, the aviation safety agency EASA and the EU health authority ECDC no longer recommend mandatory Covid masks in airports and on planes.

However, if masks are compulsory at the point of departure or destination, this should continue to apply in aircraft as well, they say.

So, what does this mean for passengers boarding flights in Germany? At the moment, not very much at all. 

In Germany, the Infection Protection Act still stipulates that masks have to be worn on long-distance trains and planes. Masks are also compulsory on local public transport.

The previous weeks have seen Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP) come out in favour of scrapping compulsory masks – especially on flights.

But so far, nothing concrete has been done to change the Infection Protection Act, which is due to expire on September 23rd. 

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

What are the current rules on flights? 

According to the Federal Ministry of Health, masks are compulsory on all flights taking off or landing in Germany.

FFP2 or medical masks must be worn when boarding and disembarking and throughout the flight, though they can be removed when eating and drinking.

Children under the age of six are exempt from the mask-wearing requirement. 

The ministry has argued that the obligation to wear masks also complies with the new EU recommendations. 

What are the rules acros the EU? 

In general, the relaxed EU recommendation does not mean that masks are no longer compulsory on all flights. However, many countries have kept this measure in place as a simple way to reduce infection. 

Europe’s largest low-cost airline, Ryanair, published a list of 14 EU countries in which national laws continue to require the wearing of face masks to prevent the spread of Covid.

Besides Germany, popular tourist destinations such as Spain, Greece, Portugal, Italy and France are included on the list. 

In other EU countries, the airline said it would be dropping mandatory masks on flights, adding that it “welcomed” the relaxed recommendations from the EU health authorities.  

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