Concerns at restriction-easing in Germany grow as Covid-19 rates rise

Senior doctors and Bavaria's state premier Markus Söder expressed concern at the government's decision to drop most Covid-19 restrictions at a time when infection rates are rising sharply.

A man waits in front of a Coronavirus testing centre in Berlin
A man waits in front of a Coronavirus testing centre offering rapid Coronavirus antigen tests that German residents can undergo free of charge, in Berlin on February 21st, 2022. John MACDOUGALL / AFP

Söder said the government’s revised Infection Protection Act exposed Germany to new virus variants without any protection. 

He told Bild am Sonntag that the coalition government’s plans had gaps and weaknesses:

“Basically, there aren’t any real protective measures any more. This means that we are defenceless against new mutations come autumn. Doing away with masks in such a widespread manner is therefore premature and could quickly lead to infection spreading in schools, for example,” the CSU politician said.

Söder, who is part of the opposition, was particularly critical of Minister of Health Karl Lauterbach (SPD).

“The Minister of Health is expecting new waves and the government wants to abolish all measures at the same time,” he said.

“If the government has its way, Covid will be history next week. But that’s not the reality.”

As The Local has been reporting, Germany is set to drop almost all Covid restrictions from March 20th, but basic measures will remain.

The new legal basis for Covid restrictions after this date provides that measures such as wearing masks and testing can continue in areas where it is needed, Lauterbach has said. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s planned Covid strategy after ‘freedom day’

Doctors have also expressed concern about the relaxing of restrictions.

Given the rising infection levels, president of DIVI (the German Interdisciplinary Association of Intensive Care Medicine and Emergency Medicine), Gernot Marx, called for it to remain compulsory to wear masks in public indoor spaces, the newspapers of the Funke media group reported on Saturday.

“Wearing masks is a proven and simple protective measure. It would be a mistake to give this up when it’s not necessary to do so,” Marx told the papers, explaining that people could protect themselves and others from infection by wearing one.

And Gerald Gaß, head of the German Hospitals Association warned that of the wider impact with increasing numbers of hospital staff absent due to illness or quarantine, DPA reported.

On Sunday, Germany reported a significant rise in daily Covid infections and the seven-day incidence rate rose above 1,500 for the first time.

The data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) showed that there were 1,526.8 new infections per 100,000 people, up from 1,496 a day earlier and 1,231.1 a week earlier.

Health offices logged 146,607 confirmed new Covid-19 infections within the latest 24-hour period, well above the 116,889 cases counted last Sunday. 

There were also 50 further deaths in connection with the virus over the same period.

READ ALSO: Germany pledges to stick with vaccine mandates despite Austria U-turn


Member comments

  1. IFF they do decide to keep masks mandatory, it would be a good time to make FFP2 masks the only acceptible ones, as they are so much more effective than surgical masks.
    But I’m sure me saying this will trigger the usual “masks have been proven to be useless” crowd to comment! 😉

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


Five things to know about the Covid pandemic in Germany right now

As the weather warms up and tourism returns to Germany, this spring feels more normal than the last two years. So what is the pandemic situation in Germany - and how will it develop?

Five things to know about the Covid pandemic in Germany right now

Covid cases falling – but lots of unreported infections

The number of Covid infections in Germany has been falling recently, according to official figures. On Tuesday, 107,568 Covid infections were logged within the latest 24 hour period, as well as 218 deaths. The 7-day incidence fell to 522.7 infections per 100,000 people. 

The Robert Koch Institute’s weekly report from May 5th stated: “The peak of the current wave has clearly been passed, many hospitalisation indicators and and deaths continue to decrease.”

But experts warned that “the infection pressure remains high with almost 600,000 Covid-19 cases transmitted to the RKI within the last week”.

It’s worth keeping in mind that many cases of Covid are going unreported. 

Johannes Nießen, chairman of the Federal Association of Public Health Service Physicians, told Tagesschau: “Many rapid tests are not confirmed by PCR testing. And since only PCR testing is included in the incidence-value calculation, we assume that the incidence value is at least twice as high as reported.”

READ ALSO: Germany reports no Covid deaths: What does it mean?

Changes to testing 

There was a time a few months ago when you had to queue for a long time to get a Covid test in Germany. But after the testing priorities changed (with a focus on PCR testing for key workers and vulnerable groups) and Covid restrictions were eased, test stations became quieter. 

And at the end of May, there will be another key change – government-funded Schnelltests will no longer be free to the public. So it won’t be possible to run to your nearest test station to check on your infection status if you think you have Covid. You’ll either need to buy a self-test or pay for a test at the centre. 

A pop-up Covid testing station in Münich.

A pop-up Covid testing station in Münich. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sven Hoppe

… but there are still Covid restrictions in place 

The so-called 3G and 2G rules – meaning people had to show some kind of proof to enter a venue like a restaurant – are no longer in place across Germany. 

Mask rules were also relaxed around the beginning of April.

But people in Germany still have to wear a Covid mask on public transport as well as long-distance trains and planes. They also remain in places where there are lots of vulnerable people such as hospitals, care homes and shelters for the homeless.

Some independent businesses and organisations can, however, ask visitors to wear a mask or take a test. 

Covid isolation rules are still in place but they have changed, too.

Now people who get a positive Covid test have to isolate for at least five days. They have the possibility to end it after five days if they haven’t had symptoms for 48 hours, or with a negative test (depending on the state rules). If symptoms or positive test results persist, isolation can last a maximum of 10 days. 

READ ALSO: Germany sets out new Covid isolation rules

Reinfections on the rise

It is unclear exactly how many people have been infected more than once. But figures from the Baden-Württemberg state health office show that cases of reinfection are increasing. In December 2021, the share of reinfections in the south-west state stood at 0.5 percent, and in April it rose to 3.6 percent. However, these are only the numbers that have been reported. 

Experts say the reason for the increase in reinfections since the beginning of the year is the Omicron variant. Virologist Martin Stürmer told Tagesschau: “In the beginning, we had the variants Alpha to Delta. The variants were so similar that the antibodies continued to provide good protection against infection or reinfection after vaccination or infection.

“With the Omicron variant, however, the virus has changed so much that this is no longer the case, so that reinfections occur more frequently despite vaccination, boosting or recovery status.”

However, Stürmer said vaccination does protect against severe illness. 

Within the Omicron variant, reinfection with the BA.2 sub-variant after an infection with BA.1 is rare, according to Stürmer. 

Although Omicron has been shown to cause less severe illness in the population in general, ‘long Covid’ – where symptoms persist for a longer period of time – is still a concern and something experts in Germany are watching closely. 

What about new variants?

Experts are urging people to be aware that new variants could emerge in the current climate. 

Stürmer said it’s important to keep in mind that “by allowing a lot of infection, we also allow the emergence of new variants, because basically the mutation rate is higher if we allow a lot of infection”.

“The virus changes,” he added, “and it may be that at some point there will be another variant that challenges us more.”

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said in April that he expected the pandemic situation to be more relaxed in the summer. But he warned of possible waves and future variants in autumn.