SHARE
COPY LINK

COVID-19 RULES

Germany to ease Covid restrictions after Omicron wave peaks

Germany's surge in coronavirus infections is reaching its peak, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Friday, signalling that the country can soon ease tough curbs as the wave begins to ebb.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz in the Bundesrat on Friday
Chancellor Olaf Scholz in the Bundesrat on Friday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Wolfgang Kumm

“The scientific forecasts show that the high point of the wave is in sight,” Scholz told the upper house of parliament.

“That will allow us to look at the first steps at reopening during a meeting next week between the federal government and the states, and then further steps for spring,” he said.

For weeks, Germany has limited access to bars and restaurants to people who have received a booster jab of the coronavirus vaccine or who are tested on top of being fully vaccinated or recovered.

Contact restrictions are also in place keeping private gatherings to 10 people, or two households if an unvaccinated person is present.

Scholz said that leaders would also be listening to the advice of scientists in order not to jeopardise success in the pandemic.

“At the same time, we will be vigilant and prepared in case the number of infected people increases significantly again,” he said.

The health system has managed the crisis well so far, Scholz said, despite the strains on doctors and hospital staff. He said the tough measures had worked well. 

Scholz is due to meet with leaders of Germany’s 16 states next Wednesday to decide the next steps on dealing with the pandemic.

READ ALSO: German hospitals ‘won’t get overwhelmed in Omicron wave’

On Friday, Germany reported 240,172 new infections over the last 24 hours, the first week-on-week drop since the beginning of the year.

Germany’s 16 states, which have significant autonomy in implementing restrictions from mask-wearing in public transport to whether children should be sent into home-schooling, have begun to gradually ease curbs.

Plans by the government to push through mandatory vaccinations for the general public were also wobbling, after Bavaria became the first state to lift an obligation for health workers to get their jabs from March 15th.

The southern German state’s decision has fuelled debate on whether the federal government’s proposal to extend a requirement to get the Covid jab would succeed in parliament.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

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

SHOW COMMENTS