Germany to start lifting Covid restrictions

Germany will start rolling back most of its coronavirus curbs as the country's falling infection rate suggests the Omicron-fuelled wave has peaked, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Wednesday after talks with regional leaders.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz after the Covid summit on Wednesday.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz after the Covid summit on Wednesday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/Reuters/Pool | Michele Tantussi

The three-step plan — which includes allowing unvaccinated people back into shops and restaurants — will see Germany reach its “freedom day” on March 20th, as media have dubbed it.

“We can look forward with more confidence than we have been able to in recent weeks,” Scholz said, adding that reopening of public life is now possible because the situation is improving. 

“After two years we deserve for things to be better again and it looks like that’s happening now,” he said.

But Scholz urged Germans to remain cautious and said they would have to keep wearing face masks. “The pandemic is not over,” he said.

North Rhine-Westphalia state premier Hendrik Wüst, who was also at the press conference, said there was no longer a threat of hospitals becoming overloaded.

He said it was a new phase in the pandemic but added: “We must remain vigilant.” 

Germany is the latest European nation to attempt a return to more normality, two years after the pandemic first emerged and upended people’s daily lives and routines.

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

What is the plan?

As a first step, Germany will immediately drop a 10-person cap on private gatherings of people who are vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19. It means contact restrictions for vaccinated/recovered people will be abolished.

For the unvaccinated however, the rule that they can only meet with people from their household and two people outside their household will remain in place for another month.

Access to non-essential shops will be open to all again, without checks on whether customers are vaccinated against the virus or not. Up to this point there have been 2G rules in place, meaning access is only for the vaccinated/recovered – not the unvaccinated. Face masks will still be required, with high-protection FFP2 masks recommended.

People walk past a Covid test centre in Bremen.

People walk past a Covid test centre in Bremen. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sina Schuldt

From March 4th, restaurants, bars, cafes and hotels will be allowed to welcome unvaccinated people again, so long as they can provide a recent negative test — a system known as 3G in Germany. Up to this point, the hospitality industry in many states has been the ‘2G-plus rule’, where vaccinated and recovered people have to show proof of a booster or negative Covid test.

Meanwhile, also from March 4th, nightclubs will be allowed to open with the 2G-plus rule in place under the plans – excluding the unvaccinated.

The number of people allowed to attend large events including sports competitions, under 2G-plus rules, will be increased.

READ ALSO: German leaders thrash out plan on relaxing Covid curbs

In a final step, the remaining profound restrictions on social, cultural and economic life are to be gradually lifted by March 20th.

That includes ditching the requirement for employees to work from home whenever possible.

After that date, Europe’s top economy will rely on “basic protection measures”, Scholz and regional leaders agreed, “in particular the wearing of medical masks” in indoor public venues and on public transport.

Social distancing is also set to be maintained.

Germany following other countries

Germany recorded almost 220,000 new coronavirus cases over the past 24 hours, the Robert Koch Institute said Wednesday, and another 247 deaths.

While daily numbers remain high, Germany’s weekly infection rate has fallen in recent days, with experts saying the coronavirus wave fuelled by the highly contagious Omicron variant has peaked.

A sign for a shop in Schwerin announcing Covid rules.

A sign for a shop in Schwerin announcing Covid rules. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Danny Gohlke

Hospitals too have coped well, having been so far spared a surge in Omicron admissions.

Those elements, combined with a 75-percent vaccination rate among Germany’s population, have led to calls for the authorities to lift curbs and give
citizens back their freedoms.

The legislation that covers Germany’s current infection protection measures runs out on March 19th.

Britain, Ireland, Denmark and Norway have already dropped most of their Covid-19 restrictions.

The Netherlands, which imposed some of Europe’s toughest measures in December, plans to follow suit. Dutch bars, restaurants and nightclubs will go back to pre-pandemic opening hours and health passes will be scrapped by February 25th.

France aims to remove the last of its curbs in the coming weeks, including ending the requirement for face masks indoors by mid-March if the pandemic situation allows.

Germany too stressed that its path to a more normal daily life depended on the further evolution of the pandemic

Scholz and regional leaders also reaffirmed their support for a general vaccine mandate, a controversial topic that has divided Germany’s lawmakers
who would have to approve the measure.

“Mandatory vaccination is necessary for the winter,” said Scholz, adding that it has to be put in place so that “one new variant doesn’t mess everything up”.

Member comments

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


Masks and no lockdowns: Germany’s new Covid plan from autumn to Easter

Germany has unveiled a draft of new Covid laws to run until April next year, with mask mandates set to remain in force, but lockdowns and school closures ruled out. Here's what we know so far.

Masks and no lockdowns: Germany's new Covid plan from autumn to Easter

The German government has prepared a graduated plan to try and limit the spread of Covid-19 this autumn. Under the new draft Infection Protection Act, states will be allowed to put in place certain rules to protect the population against Covid, from October. 

It was unveiled by the Health Ministry and Justice Ministry on Wednesday. 

Among the plans are for masks to remain compulsory in long-distance transport and in hospitals. They could also be made compulsory in other indoor areas, such as restaurants, but usually with exceptions for those who are recently vaccinated, recovered or tested. 

“If the number of cases rises sharply – masks (can also be enforced) outdoors where distances are not sufficient, and upper limits indoors,” said Health Minister Karl Lauterbach, of the Social Democrats, in a tweet where he showcased the plans. 

How long will the law be in place?

The current Infection Protection Act runs out on September 23rd. The new laws, which form the legal basis for Covid-19 measures in Germany, will apply from October 1st to April 7th 2023.

READ ALSO: Masks and tests: The Covid rules that tourists to Germany should know about

What are the draft plans?

As shown above in the diagram tweeted by the Health Minister in German, the rules have been divided into “”winter tyres” (Winterreifen)  and “snow chains” (Schneeketten), which is meant to represent possible different stages.

There are rules that will apply to the whole of Germany during the autumn/winter and early spring, certain measures that states can bring in, and the option for tougher restrictions if the situation worsens.

Nationwide protective measures from October 1st 2022 to April 7th 2023:

– Mandatory FFP2 masks on airplanes and on long-distance public transport.

– Mandatory masks and testing for access to hospitals and similar facilities, as well as for employees.

– Exceptions to the requirement to provide proof of testing are envisaged for recently vaccinated and recovered people, as well as for people who are being treated in the respective facilities or service providers.

– Exemptions from the mask requirement are provided for some people receiving treatment, for children under six, for people who can’t wear a mask for medical reasons, and for deaf and hard of hearing people.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach wears an FFP2 mask at a conference in June.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach wears an FFP2 mask at a conference in June. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

Optional tougher measures for states:

Under the draft plan, states can take additional measures if the pandemic situation requires. These include:

– Mandatory masks on public and regional transport.

– Mandatory masks in indoor spaces such as restaurants and cultural facilities. However, the plans envisage exceptions for people who have tested negatively against Covid, or who have been vaccinated or recently recovered. This could mean that the so-called ‘3G rule’ returns.

– Compulsory testing and/or masks in certain communal facilities (such as shelters for asylum seekers and children’s homes). Compulsory masks in schools would only apply to pupils from the fifth school year onwards.

Extreme measures when situation is critical:

State parliaments can enact even stricter measures if there is a threat of the health system or critical infrastructure becoming overburdened. These include:

– Compulsory wearing of masks indoors – and even outdoors if the minimum distance of 1.5 metre cannot be maintained. An exemption for recently vaccinated, tested or recovered people wouldn’t apply. 

– Mandatory health and safety plans (such as disinfectants and ventilation) for businesses and events in the recreational, cultural and sports sectors.

– Ordering a minimum distance of 1.5 m in public spaces and at outdoor events.

– Upper limits for participants at events in indoor areas.

What else should I know?

Justice Minister Marco Buschmann, of the Free Democrats, said it was important that Germany would not see further lockdowns, but that masks were a key part of the plan. 

“There should only be restrictions on freedom if they are necessary,” said Buschmann. “Our concept therefore rejects lockdowns and curfews.

“Instead, we rely on measures that are both effective and reasonable. Masks protect. And in certain situations, mandatory masks are also reasonable.

Justice Minister Marco Buschmann (FDP)

Justice Minister Marco Buschmann (FDP) gives an interview to DPA on February 3rd. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler

“That is why masks will be compulsory in hospitals and nursing homes as well as in long-distance transport. If the pandemic situation so requires, the states can also order compulsory masks for other areas of public life indoors. In culture, leisure, sport and gastronomy, however, there must be exceptions for tested, newly vaccinated and newly recovered persons.”

Buschmann said Germany was also relying on “individual responsibility of civil society – as most other European states do”.

He added that the government was paying “special attention” to schools.

“Children have a right to school education, and a school day that is as carefree as possible,” he said. “Therefore, there must be no school closures. A blanket obligation to wear masks in schools would also not be appropriate.”

What happens next?

The Cabinet will take a look at the proposals before the final draft goes to the Bundestag to be voted on.