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Will Germany lift its Covid restrictions amid rising infections?

The Local
The Local - [email protected] • 14 Mar, 2022 Updated Mon 14 Mar 2022 16:45 CEST
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A sign outside a flower shop informs customers of the requirement to wear FFP2 masks indoors. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Monika Skolimowska

Germany's very own 'freedom day' is currently scheduled for March 20th, but soaring Covid infections have sparked a debate about whether now is the right time to dispense with the majority of measures. Here's what you need to know.


What's going on?

After peaking in the middle of February and then dipping for a number of weeks, Covid infections have been rising rapidly in recent days. As of Monday, the 7-day incidence of new infections had hit a new all-time high of 1,543 per 100,000 people - up from 1,526 the previous day.

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) also recorded more than 92,300 new infections within the latest 24 hour period, compared to 78,428 at the same time last week.

In a tweet on Sunday, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) revealed that Germany currently had the "highest Covid incidence in Europe", adding that there was an upwards trend with "many dead". 

READ ALSO: Germany in 'critical' Covid situation, warns Health Minister

The rise in figures comes as the government gears up to instigate the final step of a staged plan to reopen public life after months of Covid restrictions.

At the latest stage in its reopening plan on March 4th, Germany allowed clubs to reopen under a 2G-plus policy, meaning visitors had to be fully vaccinated with either a booster jab or a negative test - or in some states, a booster jab and a negative test.

Strict 2G-plus rules were also scrapped in bars, hotels and restaurants and replaced with the 3G rule where only a test or certificate of vaccination or recovery are needed.

Though the rise in figures could be linked to the liberalisation of rules, a worrying subtype of Omicron known as BA.2 is thought to be partially responsible. 

The BA.2 subtype is believed to be even more transmissable than the first Omicron subtype and is currently becoming more prevelant in Germany

Against this backdrop, the next stage in the government's reopening plan is scheduled for March 20th, but with concerns growing around the swelling infection rates, a number of politicians are arguing for a more cautious approach. 


What happens on March 20th? 

In what has been touted as a UK-style 'freedom day' by some, March 20th could see almost all of Germany's remaining Covid restrictions lifted. 

This is because the Infection Protection Act, which currently dictates all the Covid regulations that are in place, is currently due to expire on this date. 

After this, a minimum number of protective measures like masks and social distancing will be kept in place via amendments to the Infection Protection Act, while more intrusive measures like 3G/2G entry policies are likely to fall away. 


Under proposals drafted by Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) and Justice Minister March Buschmann (FDP), mandatory mask-wearing would only be kept on public transport and in clinics and care homes, but not in shops and other public indoor spaces.

In addition, testing requirements in schools and nursing homes would remain in place, but most other measures would be scrapped.

If certain regions see particularly high infections rates or hospitalisations from Covid, the federal states would have some powers to introduce tougher measures such as '2G' or '3G' entry rules or masks and hygiene concepts in public places. 

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

The FDP has defended the plans, with designated General Secretary Bijan Djir-Sarai arguing that lifting Covid restrictions after two years of the pandemic was a sign of success. 

"This combination of responsible actions and the end of restrictions on freedom is exactly right," he stressed. 

But some are concerned that the plans go too far in light of the current infection situation. 

Are there any alternative proposals?

While few are in favour of maintaining many of the more far-reaching Covid rules, critics of the government's plans say the amendments to the mask-wearing requirement are a step to far.

Speaking to the Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland (RND), Green Party health specialist Janosch Dahmen said he would campaign to keep the general mask requirement in the Infection Protect Act.

"I am very much in favour of adapting the draft law on the reform of the Infection Protection Act once again and retaining the obligation to wear masks indoors as a basic protection measure," said Dahmen.

FFP2 mask shopping Berlin

A woman wears an FFP2 mask on a busy shopping street in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Monika Skolimowska

SPD co-leader Saskia Esken also expressed her support for a wider range of basic Covid measures going forward.

"Spring is coming, but Covid apparently remains with us," Esken told DPA. "In the new Infection Protection Act, we therefore need sufficient basic protection that applies equally everywhere - including masks and 3G in long-distance and local public transport as well as masks in retail."

The federal states should also be given more far-reaching powers to respond to the dynamic Covid situation, she said. 

What happens next?

On Wednesday, suggested amendments to the Infection Protection Act will be debated in the Bundestag for the first time.

Then, on Thursday, representatives of the 16 federal states will discuss the same issue with Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) at a meeting between the state and federal governments. 

On Friday, there will be a vote on the controversial draft put together by Lauterbach and Buschmann. 

On Sunday, March 20th, the current draft of the bill will expire, bringing into force the new rules.


READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: What you need to know about Germany’s Covid reopening plan

If the current debate is anything to go by, there could easily be a split between the parties that make up the current traffic-light coalition, with the liberal FDP keen to see a rapid end to restrictions and the centre-left Greens and SPD taking a more cautious approach.

The perspective of the federal state leaders may also influence what happens this week, as they will likely have their own views on which measures should be kept in place and how much power the states should have to change them. 

CSU state premier Markus Söder - an influential voice in state politics - has already aired his views about the traffic light's proposals.

The removal of almost all Covid measures would leave Germany "defenseless" in autumn, he told Bild.

"For example, the extensive removal of masks is premature and could quickly lead to a so-called contagion at school," he added. "If the traffic light government had their way, Covid would be history from next week. But that is not the reality."




The Local 2022/03/14 16:45

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product-engineering 2022/03/15 12:51
For crying out loud - look at RKI figures: ICU beds down from 11.1 to 10.0%, (from possible total ICU beds some 2,700)! Hospitalised 1720 down to 250. Confirmed cases 169,217 down to 92,378 243 new deaths associated with Covid down to 19
chenbo.liu 2022/03/15 11:34
The states don't want to take the responsibilities, like always.
cflynn2388 2022/03/14 20:20
They can't remove the restrictions, how could they possibly bring in forced consent if there is no restrictions to save us from. I can see it now... A spring lockdown should do the trick. <- thats enough to get the vaccine register agreed. An autumn resurgence just in the nic of time. <- all over 18s need to be consented. Meanwhile, pfizer keep releasing their documents describing safety over profits. Which they have always had at the forefront of their minds. Pro choice is the only choice.

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