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: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

A resurgence of Covid-19 cases in Europe, this time driven by new, fast-spreading Omicron subvariants, is once again threatening to disrupt people's summer plans.

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

Several Western European nations have recently recorded their highest daily case numbers in months, due in part to Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5.

The increase in cases has spurred calls for increased vigilance across a continent that has relaxed most if not all coronavirus restrictions.

The first resurgence came in May in Portugal, where BA.5 propelled a wave that hit almost 30,000 cases a day at the beginning of June. That wave has since started to subside, however.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: German Health Ministry lays out autumn Covid plan

Italy recorded more than 62,700 cases on Tuesday, nearly doubling the number from the previous week, the health ministry said. 

Germany meanwhile reported more than 122,000 cases on Tuesday. 

France recorded over 95,000 cases on Tuesday, its highest daily number since late April, representing a 45-percent increase in just a week.

Austria this Wednesday recorded more than 10,000 for the first time since April.

READ ALSO: Italy’s transport mask rule extended to September as Covid rate rises

Cases have also surged in Britain, where there has been a seven-fold increase in Omicron reinfection, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The ONS blamed the rise on the BA.4 and BA.5 variants, but also said Covid fell to the sixth most common cause of death in May, accounting for 3.3 percent of all deaths in England and Wales.

BA.5 ‘taking over’

Mircea Sofonea, an epidemiologist at the University of Montpellier, said Covid’s European summer wave could be explained by two factors.

READ ALSO: 11,000 new cases: Will Austria reintroduce restrictions as infection numbers rise?

One is declining immunity, because “the protection conferred by an infection or a vaccine dose decreases in time,” he told AFP.

The other came down to the new subvariants BA.4 and particularly BA.5, which are spreading more quickly because they appear to be both more contagious and better able to escape immunity.

Olivier Schwartz, head of the virus and immunity unit at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, said BA.5 was “taking over” because it is 10 percent more contagious than BA.2.

“We are faced with a continuous evolution of the virus, which encounters people who already have antibodies — because they have been previously infected or vaccinated — and then must find a selective advantage to be able to sneak in,” he said.

READ ALSO: Tourists: What to do if you test positive for Covid in France

But are the new subvariants more severe?

“Based on limited data, there is no evidence of BA.4 and BA.5 being associated with increased infection severity compared to the circulating variants BA.1 and BA.2,” the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said last week.

But rising cases can result in increasing hospitalisations and deaths, the ECDC warned.

Could masks be making a comeback over summer? (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

Alain Fischer, who coordinates France’s pandemic vaccine strategy, warned that the country’s hospitalisations had begun to rise, which would likely lead to more intensive care admissions and eventually more deaths.

However, in Germany, virologist Klaus Stohr told the ZDF channel that “nothing dramatic will happen in the intensive care units in hospitals”.

Return of the mask? 

The ECDC called on European countries to “remain vigilant” by maintaining testing and surveillance systems.

“It is expected that additional booster doses will be needed for those groups most at risk of severe disease, in anticipation of future waves,” it added.

Faced with rising cases, last week Italy’s government chose to extend a requirement to wear medical grade FFP2 masks on public transport until September 30.

“I want to continue to recommend protecting yourself by getting a second booster shot,” said Italy’s Health Minister Roberto Speranza, who recently tested positive for Covid.

READ ALSO: Spain to offer fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose to ‘entire population’

Fischer said France had “clearly insufficient vaccination rates” and that a second booster shot was needed.

Germany’s government is waiting on expert advice on June 30 to decide whether to reimpose mandatory mask-wearing rules indoors.

The chairman of the World Medical Association, German doctor Frank Ulrich Montgomery, has recommended a “toolbox” against the Covid wave that includes mask-wearing, vaccination and limiting the number of contacts.