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EXPLAINED: Germany's planned Covid strategy after 'freedom day'

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EXPLAINED: Germany's planned Covid strategy after 'freedom day'
People sit at a cafe in Stuttgart. Under a draft plan, states will be able to bring in tougher Covid restrictions if the situation worsens. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bernd Weißbrod

The German coalition government has released a draft plan on what we can expect after most Covid restrictions are lifted later this month. Here are the key points.


What's happening?

At the moment Germany is gradually lifting its Covid restrictions in three stages. That's because on March 19th, the Infection Protection Act, which is currently the basis for Covid restrictions in Germany, will expire. 

In the first stage of the reopening plan announced on February 16th, contact restrictions were dropped for vaccinated and recovered people.

But, unvaccinated people are still only allowed to meet with members of their own household and two people from another household. This rule remains in place until March 20th. Children aged 14 and under are not included.

Restrictions were also eased in the retail sector across Germany, meaning that people could enter shops without having to show proof of being fully vaccinated or recovered (the 2G rule), though mandatory mask-wearing remains in place. 

On March 4th, restaurants, bars, hotels and cafes reopened to unvaccinated people under 3G rules, while nightclubs reopened their doors with entry restrictions.

In the last stage, from March 20th, almost all Covid rules will be dropped. 

READ ALSO: Germany to keep Covid safeguards in place after March 20th

What happens after March 20th?

German ministers already said that some basic measures would stay in place after the Infection Protection Act ends, but it was unclear how these would look.

On Wednesday, ministers confirmed that they had reached a draft agreement for a legal framework and Covid strategy to apply after this date.

“I think we have found a very good compromise,” Buschmann told German broadcaster ZDF. He said the agreement will mean “practically no more restrictions in the everyday life of citizens”.

Justice Minister Marco Buschmann and Health Minister Karl Lauterbach speak on Wednesday.

Justice Minister Marco Buschmann and Health Minister Karl Lauterbach speak on Wednesday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bernd von Jutrczenka

The agreement, which is likely to be approved by Cabinet on Wednesday, includes a section on what happens if a region sees a concerning Covid spike or overburdened hospitals.


"If case numbers are high or even rising, and hospital care is at risk, then more far-reaching measures can also be taken immediately," German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said on Wednesday. State parliaments can "decide immediately" if they need to take action, he said.

The measures below - if approved - would apply from March 20th.

Mandatory masks 

The draft proposal states that masks must continue to be worn in places like old people's homes and hospitals, i.e. everywhere where people at risk live or are being cared for.

The obligation will also continue to apply to people and employees in local public transport. However, mandatory masks will likely be dropped for travel on long-distance transport.


Compulsory testing

Where people come into contact with vulnerable groups, proof of a negative rapid test will still have to be presented. Compulsory testing is also to remain in schools - as well as in prisons and other group accommodation settings, under the draft plans.

A test station in Hamburg.

A test station in Hamburg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Marcus Brandt

Tougher measures in Covid hotspots

Regionally limited further measures can be imposed if there is a "concrete danger of a dynamically spreading infection situation". In that case, however, the state parliaments must determine this 'special situation' and the respective region by vote. However, it has not been determined when an area becomes a hotspot.

The following measures would only come into effect when the respective region determines the situation.

  • Mandatory masks in public spaces
  • Distance requirements as well as hygiene and safety concepts, especially indoors
  • Access restrictions to public places with the Covid health pass entry system known in Germany as the 'G-rules' (2G, 3G etc.)


What are ministers saying?

Ministers hope that these safeguards can stop any future waves from getting out of control. 

"I still have hope that we can control the increase," Health Minister Lauterbach said on Wednesday.

Buschmann said he hoped "that we can control the situation well with this set of instruments".

He added that the general rule in regions that are not struggling with a high number of infections is "returning to the normality of life as far as possible, with the exception of particularly dangerous settings."

Lauterbach also called for responsible behaviour from the public. 

It comes as the 7-day incidence of Covid infections rose for the seventh day.

On Wednesday, health offices reported 215,854 Covid infections and 314 deaths. The incidence climbed to 1,319 infections per 100,000 people within seven days.

Meanwhile, ministers said that virologist Christian Drosten, of the Charité hospital in Berlin, will write up an expert report on what possible developments of the virus can be expected. 

Lauterbach said that the regulations would remain valid until September 23rd, so that a follow-up law can be passed before the beginning of an expected autumn wave.

The draft law will be discussed with Germany's 16 states. 


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