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COVID-19 RULES

How German pharmacies are extending the ‘recovery’ status for vaccinated people

At the start of the year, Germany's Robert Koch Institute (RKI) shortened the duration of the Covid recovery status to three months rather six - but under a recent change, pharmacies have started giving out six-month certificates to the vaccinated. Here's what you need to know.

Pharmacy in Hamburg
A pharmacy in Hamburg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Marcus Brandt

What’s going on? 

At the start of January, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) announced that Covid recovery certificates would only be valid for 90 days (three months), rather than the previous 180 days (six months). The move was a significant one as it meant that many people who were relying on their certificates to enter 2G venues (i.e. vaccinated and recovered only) or 3G venues (for which you need a certificate of vaccination, recovery or a negative test) suddenly no longer counted as ‘recovered’ in the eyes of the authorities.

Amid significant push-back against the rules, the government made things even worse for itself by giving parliamentarians an exception to the rule. Though the vast majority of people were faced with a strict 90-day expiry date on their proof of recovery, MPs were allowed to continue using their certificates for up to six months to enter the debating chamber of the Bundestag building. 

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To add to the confusion, EU regulations state that recovery certificates can be used for up 180 days – or roughly six months – for the purpose of travel between member states. 

According to the Deutsche Apotheker Zeitung, German pharmacies had assumed that the 90-day period applied to everyone who had recovered from Covid. But a recent update to the RKI website reveals that different rules in fact apply to different people (and not only if they work in the German Bundestag). Here’s what’s going on.

So what rules apply to unvaccinated people?

For people who haven’t received a single dose of Covid vaccine, the 90-day expiry date still applies. A bulletin issued last Friday by the Federal Administrative Services Agency (FASA) explains: “With the update of the RKI website, it has been clarified that the limitation of the validity of the recovery certificates to 90 days only concerns persons who were not vaccinated before and after the infection.” 

That means that the unvaccinated will only be able to get a recovery certificate issued up to three months after their positive PCR test. After this, they won’t have access to 2G venues unless they are infected again or choose to get vaccinated, and will need a negative Covid test to enter 3G venues like the workplace or public transport. 

One option for this group to protect their status is to get a first Covid jab three months after their recovery, which would then mean they count as fully vaccinated. 

And what should vaccinated people expect?

As the FASA bulletin makes clear, the previous 180 day expiry date still applies to vaccinated people, regardless of whether the infection was before or after their Covid jab. So, for instance, if someone had their first or second shot of vaccine in September and then had a Covid infection in November, their recovery status would still be valid for a further three months, during which time they could get a further dose of vaccine.

The same applies to all vaccinated people, including those who have had a booster jab. This entire group can obtain a vaccination certificate from a pharmacy up to six months after their infection, and it will be valid up 180 days after the date of their positive PCR test.

READ ALSO: ANALYSIS: Are Germany’s Covid rule changes backed up by science?

What else do I need to know?

Though the myriad of rules may be confusing, there’s one firm rule that applies to everyone: a recovery certificate does not allow people to get into 2G or 3G venues straight away. The certificates only become valid 28 days after the date of the positive PCR test, when the body is believed to have created the necessary antibodies for increased Covid immunity.

Currently, people have to wait around three months after their full course of jabs (known as the ‘basic immunisation’) to get a booster in Germany. A similar rule applies to those who have had a Covid infection. This group has to wait three months after their positive test to get an additional jab if they want one. 

It’s also important to note that there are some important differences between EU and German rules when it comes to the expiry date of vaccination certificates. 

A vaccination booklet, EU vaccination certificate and smartphone

A vaccination booklet, EU vaccination certificate and smartphone lie on a table. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Stefan Puchner

According to the latest EU regulations, fully vaccinated people can travel freely around different member states for up to 270 days, or nine months, without a negative test. As we mentioned, recovery certificates last up to six months for travel within the EU, which is why these certificates are always valid for up to 180 days when uploaded to the CovPass app as an EU recovery certificate. 

READ ALSO: EU countries agree to simplify travel rules with Covid certificates

So, for example, if someone was double-vaccinated and then contracted Covid, their recovery certificate would last up to six months and their vaccination status would last up to nine months for the purposes of EU travel. 

If they got vaccinated more than three months before their Covid infection and weren’t planning on getting a booster, it would then make sense to use the recovery certificate for travel as this would last longer than the vaccination. They could then get a booster in their own time. 

Under current EU rules, there is no expiry date for the status of people who have had a booster jab. 

Do I need to get a new recovery certificate?

Not necessarily, but it could be advisable – especially if new virus variants emerge in spring and lead to further restrictions on public life. 

It is therefore a good idea to get a recovery certificate uploaded to the CovPass app, where (as an EU certificate) it will be valid for travel through the bloc for up to 180 days. 

According to DAZ, pharmacies had previously assumed that the 90-day recovery rule applied to everyone whether they had been vaccinated or not, so some vaccinated people may find they have a three-month certificate rather than a six-month one.

If this has happened to you, it’s worth asking at the pharmacy for a new proof with a longer validity. A randomised survey carried out recently suggested that pharmacies in Munich, Cologne, Berlin and Stuttgart are again issuing convalescent certificates with a validity of 180 days for vaccinated people. This is likely to be the case throughout Germany. 

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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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