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EXPLAINED: Germany’s planned Covid strategy after ‘freedom day’

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.

People sit at a cafe in Stuttgart.
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

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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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?