Health Minister urges German states not to relax Covid rules too quickly

Germany's Health Minister Karl Lauterbach has appealed to the leaders of the 16 states to follow the phasing-out plan for Covid restrictions - and not to drop measures too quickly.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach on Friday.
Health Minister Karl Lauterbach on Friday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Wolfgang Kumm

The federal and state governments agreed to phase-out far-reaching Covid measures by March 20th in a three-step plan. 

However, German states have in the past tended to go their own way when it comes to the pandemic. On Thursday it emerged that the state of Lower Saxony was to relax Covid testing in schools.

On Friday during an update on the Covid situation in Germany, Lauterbach talked to leaders of the 16 states directly. 

“My appeal to all state premiers is to not go beyond the agreed relaxations,” he said, adding that the step-by-step easing is the “maximum we can afford”.

Lauterbach said the peak of the Omicron wave in Germany had passed but a relapse is possible. 

He said loosening rules faster to make political gains “would be wrong”.

“We can afford moderate easing, but not excessive,” he said. “We are not really in safe waters yet.”

There is always the possibility of seeing an uptick in infections, he said. “If we open too early, not only will there be an extension of the wave, but the case numbers will go up again. It’s all on the edge.”|

On Wednesday, Chancellor Olaf Scholz and state premiers agreed to gradually lift most restrictions by March 20th. The first step involves dropping contract restrictions for vaccinated/recovered people, and opening up shops to everyone without Covid pass checks. 

READ MORE: What you need to know about Germany’s Covid reopening plan

Lauterbach said that Germany has so far managed to get through the Delta and Omicron waves.

“We were able to protect the elderly quite well,” he said, adding that there had been a relatively low number of deaths per million inhabitants compared to other European countries.

“I continue to stand for this conservative approach,” he said, thanking German residents for being cautious.

“My thanks go to all those who have been fair and careful,” he said. “We owe the successes we have to them.”

Lauterbach predicted that Germany would see a new Covid wave in autumn. “We have to prepare for that,” he said.

He reiterated his support for a general vaccine mandate. 

Lauterbach said that head of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), Lothar Wieler, was unable to attend the press conference due to “health reasons”.

RKI vice-president Lars Schaade, who attended in his place, said even though the peak of Omicron had passed, the situation was still tense in hospitals. 

“The peak for the intensive care units has not yet been reached,” he said.

Schaade said the risk of infection remains high, and vulnerable groups in particular were still at risk.

“The pandemic is not over yet,” said Schaade.

On Friday Germany reported 220,048 new Covid infections and 264 deaths within the latest 24-hour period.

The nationwide 7-day incidence fell to 1,371.7 infections per 100,000 people.

Member comments

  1. “We can afford moderate easing, but not excessive,” he said. “We are not really in safe waters yet.”

    Most are in safe water. Those who aren’t, they have made that choice themselves. End all masking and restrictions. Life must go on.

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Do people in Germany still have to wear Covid masks on planes?

With the EU changing its Covid recommendations for flights, there is some confusion around whether people boarding a plane in Germany will still need to wear a mask. Here's what we know so far.

Do people in Germany still have to wear Covid masks on planes?

As of Monday, the aviation safety agency EASA and the EU health authority ECDC no longer recommend mandatory Covid masks in airports and on planes.

However, if masks are compulsory at the point of departure or destination, this should continue to apply in aircraft as well, they say.

So, what does this mean for passengers boarding flights in Germany? At the moment, not very much at all. 

In Germany, the Infection Protection Act still stipulates that masks have to be worn on long-distance trains and planes. Masks are also compulsory on local public transport.

The previous weeks have seen Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP) come out in favour of scrapping compulsory masks – especially on flights.

But so far, nothing concrete has been done to change the Infection Protection Act, which is due to expire on September 23rd. 

READ ALSO: German politicians row over lifting mandatory Covid mask rule

What are the current rules on flights? 

According to the Federal Ministry of Health, masks are compulsory on all flights taking off or landing in Germany.

FFP2 or medical masks must be worn when boarding and disembarking and throughout the flight, though they can be removed when eating and drinking.

Children under the age of six are exempt from the mask-wearing requirement. 

The ministry has argued that the obligation to wear masks also complies with the new EU recommendations. 

What are the rules acros the EU? 

In general, the relaxed EU recommendation does not mean that masks are no longer compulsory on all flights. However, many countries have kept this measure in place as a simple way to reduce infection. 

Europe’s largest low-cost airline, Ryanair, published a list of 14 EU countries in which national laws continue to require the wearing of face masks to prevent the spread of Covid.

Besides Germany, popular tourist destinations such as Spain, Greece, Portugal, Italy and France are included on the list. 

In other EU countries, the airline said it would be dropping mandatory masks on flights, adding that it “welcomed” the relaxed recommendations from the EU health authorities.  

READ ALSO: Will Germany soon get rid of mandatory face masks on public transport?