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What we know so far about Germany’s ‘freedom day’ plans

Germany is set to phase out almost all Covid restrictions in three stages, says a draft proposal. Here's what we know so far about what some are calling 'freedom day'.

A sign for a cafe in Potsdam, Brandenburg, shows entry is only for people who are vaccinated or recovered with a Covid test or booster shot (2G-plus).
A sign for a cafe in Potsdam, Brandenburg, shows entry is only for people who are vaccinated or recovered with a Covid test or booster shot (2G-plus). Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Monika Skolimowska

What’s all this about ‘freedom day’?

Germany’s tough Covid restrictions are to be phased out in three stages by March 20th, according to draft poposals published ahead of Wednesday’s Covid summit between Chancellor Olaf Scholz and state leaders. 

The day that almost all Covid measures will be lifted is earmarked for March 20th – almost exactly two years after Germany entered its first pandemic lockdown.

Some German media sites, such as Business Insider, described this as “freedom day”, taking up the phrased coined by the UK government to describe its return to public life last summer. 

“By the calendar beginning of spring on March 20th 2022, the far-reaching restrictions on social, cultural and economic life are to be gradually lifted,’ says the plan.

After that, basic protection measures like compulsory medical masks will continue.

READ ALSO: Germany plans to drop almost all Covid restrictions in March

The relaxation of rules is to take place in three steps.

Before each step is taken, the government and states would examine “whether the planned measures are appropriate for the situation”.

Here’s a look at the proposals:

First step: In a first step – likely beginning this week – vaccinated and recovered people will be able to meet in larger groups. 

Instead of the current upper limit of 10 people, “private gatherings of vaccinated and recovered people with up to [20] people will be possible”, the bill says.

The number 20 is in square brackets, which means it is still in dispute between the federal government and the states.

The draft continues: “Due to the particular vulnerability of the unvaccinated, the restrictions in place for these persons will remain in place until March 19th 2022.

Unvaccinated people can only meet people from their own household and a maximum of two others from another household. 

Children up to the age of 14 would be exempt from contact restrictions.

In the first stage, access to shops would open to everyone without checks on whether customers are vaccinated or tested (as is currently the case under the ‘2G’ rule). 

But masks will continue to be mandatory. 

“Medical masks must be worn to take account of the still high risk of infection indoors,” said the draft. “The use of FFP2 masks is recommended if not required by state law.”

People walking on a busy street in Cottbus. Non-essential shops in many parts of Germany bar unvaccinated people currently.

People walking on a busy street in Cottbus. Non-essential shops in many parts of Germany bar unvaccinated people currently. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Patrick Pleul

Second step: from March 4th, unvaccinated people will be allowed back into restaurants, cafes and bars, according to the plans. 

Access to hospitality will be under the 3G rule meaning that people can show proof of being vaccinated, recovered or have an up-to-date negative rapid test.

In most German states, including Berlin, unvaccinated people have been barred from using these facilities for several weeks under the current 2G-plus rules. 

Hotels will reopen to everyone with restrictions. “Overnight accommodation will also be available to those vaccinated, recovered and those with a daily negative test (3G rule),” said the proposal. 

Discos and clubs will be allowed to open again. They will have the 2G-plus rule in place, meaning only vaccinated and recovered people can attend with proof of a negative Covid test or proof of a booster jab. 

The proposal says that major events will allow more spectators to attend, albeit with restrictions. 

Third step: From March 20th 2022, almost all Covid rules will be dropped. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s expert council signals support for relaxing Covid rules

After that date, “basic protection measures” including “in particular the wearing of medical masks” in public will continue. 

But other major restrictions, including rules requiring employers to allow staff to work from home if possible, will be lifted at that time.

However, employers can continue to offer ‘home office’ work in agreement with employees if there are no operational reasons to refuse it, and it is in the interest of infection protection – for example, when working in open-plan offices.

Is this all going to happen?

It’s not set in stone. Proposals for the next steps will be discussed at the federal-state Covid summit on Wednesday February 16th, and decisions are expected then. 

Several high-profile politicians in Germany, such as Bavaria leader Markus Söder, have been speaking about Covid relaxations in recent days, so it is likely that reopening will receive a lot of support. 

Finance Minister Christian Lindner, of the Free Democrats, also said Germany needed to get back to normality “step by step”.

Finance Minister Christian Lindner (FDP)

Finance Minister Christian Lindner (FDP) wears a mask ahead of a cabinet meeting on February 9th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/AFP POOL | John Macdougall

In the areas of education, trade, gastronomy, culture, sport and in companies, “a noticeable step towards normality” must be taken, he told the Handelsblatt business newspaper.

He advocated for the 2G rules to be “immediately lifted” and replaced with mandatory FFP2 masks.

He also argued that contact restrictions for vaccinated and recovered people should be dropped, and there should be no more measures on people when they are outside. 

“We need to start the process now and normalise life step by step,” Lindner said.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach, of the Social Democrats (SPD), is likely to be cautious, but Chancellor Olaf Scholz – also SPD – signalled last week that he expects Covid restrictions to be lifted after the Omicron wave peaks.

Meanwhile, Berlin’s health senator Ulrike Gote raised concerns about the proposals, saying she was still on the side of ‘team caution’.

“What is being said now – we will open everything by March 19th – that is honestly going too fast for me,” said the Green politician on Monday.

Member comments

  1. This “offer” by the government sounds like a big “poop” sandwich. We aren’t getting ANY of our freedoms back until these ridiculous masks go away for good.

  2. There is something sick and demeaning to democratic freedoms about the term “Freedom Day” – please stop promulgating it’s use.

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How useful are Germany’s Covid restrictions?

Protective measures such as wearing a mask correctly and lockdowns can be effective in the fight against Covid, an expert commission in Germany has found. But many questions remain unanswered.

How useful are Germany's Covid restrictions?

The council of experts spent months evaluating the effects of measures imposed by the German government to help slow down the spread of Covid-19.

In the presentation of their findings on Friday, the panel said that measures like mask-wearing have had an effect, and can continue to be helpful against coronavirus.

The council said masks could be “an effective instrument”, but that there are limitations.

“An ill-fitting or not tight-fitting mask has a reduced to no effect,” said the council.

If masks are made compulsory again in the future, this should only apply indoors, because the risk of infection is higher there, the report said. 

However the experts added: “A general recommendation to wear FFP2 masks cannot be derived from the data so far.” Virologist Hendrick Streeck, who is on the panel, said that a “separate commission should look into this”.

READ ALSO: Germany’s current Covid mask rules 

On lockdowns, the experts said the usefulness of this measure depended on the infection situation. 

“When only a few people are infected, lockdown measures have a significantly stronger effect,” the report said. The longer a lockdown lasts, and the fewer people are willing to support the measure, the lesser the effect, experts added. 

Similar to to lockdown measures, contact tracing was also found to be effective in the early phases of the pandemic.

Members of the Covid expert panel Jutta Allmendinger, Hendrik Streeck, Harald Wilkoszewski and Helga Rübsamen-Schaeff speak on Friday.

Members of the Covid expert panel Jutta Allmendinger, Hendrik Streeck, Harald Wilkoszewski and Helga Rübsamen-Schaeff speak on Friday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Fabian Sommer

The report authors also said that the success of access restrictions, such as the 2G/3G measures (which mean people have to be vaccinated, recovered or tested to enter a public venue), depended on when people had had their jab or had been infected with Covid.

“The effect of 2G/3G measures is high with current variants in the first weeks after booster vaccination or recovery,” the report says. However, the protection against infection decreases significantly over time. 

In the current phase of the pandemic, it’s difficult to assess how useful these rules are, said the council. They recommended that in future, tests should be recommended as a condition of entry, regardless of vaccination status. 

Meanwhile, the evaluation concluded that risk communication in Germany was poorly used and that the information campaign to the public could have been better designed.

No statement on vaccinations

There are measures on which the committee did not make any statements, including vaccinations. Virologist Streek said that was the task of the Standing Commission on Vaccination (STIKO).

The experts were also weren’t clear on the controversial topic of school closures. Their effectiveness is “still open, despite biological plausibility and numerous studies”, the report said. The panel called for more studies on school closures.

READ ALSO: German Health Ministry lays out autumn Covid plan

The researchers said that they struggled to evaluate some measures due to poor data, and urged authorities to adopt better methods and practices on that front. 

“We have a poor data situation,” said virologist Streeck. 

As Germany is preparing for possible Covid waves in autumn, the Health Ministry will be looking at the report closely.

But Greens’ health expert Janosch Dahmen said the findings were of limited significance.

“The report provides supplementary evidence, but by no means a conclusive assessment of the effect of Covid protection measures,” said Dahmen.

The completion of the report, which should have been published on June 30th, was delayed.

In the run-up, the head of the council of experts, Stefan Huster, dampened expectations for the report.

“Anyone expecting a list with a plus or a minus behind all the individual measures for ‘effective’ or ‘not effective’ will be disappointed,” Huster told Spiegel. “Our perspective is more fundamental and looks at the structures, in terms of being well prepared for a pandemic.”

The panel, which included scientists and researchers in various fields, was commissioned by the German government to carry out the research.