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COVID-19 RULES

German leaders thrash out plan to phase out Covid rules

Chancellor Olaf Scholz and state leaders were due to meet Wednesday to discuss the next steps in Germany's reopening plan.

A shop in Frankfurt with a sign saying people must wear FFP2 masks.
A shop in Frankfurt with a sign saying people must wear FFP2 masks. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Arne Dedert

A new draft proposal emerged on Tuesday evening ahead of Wednesday’s Covid summit with Scholz and the 16 state premiers.

The updated proposal details extensive relaxations for private meetings, and a new testing strategy.

As The Local has been reporting, the federal and state governments plan to debate the phasing out of almost all Covid restrictions in Germany. 

A draft released on Monday outlined that contact restrictions will be eased for vaccinated and recovered people, while access to shops will be open to everyone without checks on whether customers are vaccinated or tested.

In a second step from March 4th, access to restaurants, bars and cafes will be open to unvaccinated people too if they show a negative test (the 3G rule). Currently, they are only open to people who are vaccinated/recovered with a booster shot or a negative Covid test (the 2G-plus rule). 

Meanwhile, also from March 4th, clubs and discos will be allowed to open with the 2G-plus rule in place under the plans, which means vaccinated and recovered people would have to show proof of a booster or negative Covid test.

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

Contact restrictions dropped for vaccinated/recovered

According to the latest draft, the federal and state governments want to get rid of all limits on the number of vaccinated/recovered people who can meet in private. Currently the maximum number of people who can meet is 10.

However, For the unvaccinated, the current rules would continue to apply. Unvaccinated people can meet with their own household and two people from another household.

Major events

Also in the new proposed resolution is a plan to allow a 75 percent occupancy rate for large outdoor events (maximum 25,000 spectators). Indoors, a 60 percent occupancy rate could be allowed (maximum of 6,000 spectators). These regulations could also come into force from March 4th.

All other more far-reaching protective measures are to be dropped from March 20th, under the proposals.

However, the “obligation to wear masks in the enclosed spaces of public facilities and on buses and trains” will be kept in place, under the plans.

Testing to continue

In the new draft there is also a request that the federal government develop a testing strategy beyond March 31st 2022, and extend the testing regulation. However, there are no further details at this stage.

Compulsory vaccination

According to the proposed resolution, a vaccine mandate in the health sector will happen.

However, the new paper now lacks a reference to the current deadline of March 15th 2022 for the implementation of mandatory vaccination for health and care workers.

“The health authorities have discretion in implementing the measures,” says the paper.

This appears to give some German states some flexibility on how they implement the mandate, which they have been calling for. 

READ ALSO: Bavaria to postpone vaccine mandate for health and care workers

Covid recovery status under the spotlight

As well as the proposed resolution, there’s a second version with separate demands from states led by the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian sister party, the CSU. 

In this version, the Union states say they want to see the status of when someone is considered vaccinated or recovered be determined directly by the government – and no longer by the Paul Ehrlich Institute and Robert Koch Institute (RKI).

The recovery status of people who’ve had Covid in Germany was recently changed from six months to three months. But it has resulted in a backlash, and massive confusion. 

The conservative states said they want to see the ‘recovered status’ be extended again to six months. In the case of a double-vaccinated person, the status should last nine months, they propose. 

According to the draft proposals, plans to remove the authority over vaccination and recovery status from the RKI are already underway. German daily Welt also reported on Wednesday that the decision to shorten recovery status could potentially be reversed. 

READ ALSO: How German pharmacies are extending the ‘recovery’ status of vaccinated people

What happens now?

Chancellor Scholz and state leaders will discuss all the proposals on Wednesday and final decisions will be announced after that. Keep an eye on The Local’s homepage for the latest updates. 

Member comments

  1. Exactly. I just want fresh air, unfogged glasses, and not have to pull out “my papers” and passports to do practically anything. It’s just criminal what these “leaders” are doing to millions to protect a handful that refuse to be vaccinated. COVID kills like the flu now. We don’t shut down for the flu. Ridiculous.

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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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