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COVID-19 RULES

Berlin to lift almost all Covid-19 measures on April 1st

Germany is easing Covid rules from March 20th - however, the city state of Berlin has announced that it will lift most restrictions slightly later.

An FFP2 mask sign in a Berlin shop.
An FFP2 mask sign in a Berlin shop. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Monika Skolimowska

After a Senate meeting on Tuesday, Berlin’s mayor Franziska Giffey (Social Democrats) announced that almost all Covid-related restrictions would be dropped from  April 1st. After this date, only basic protective measures, being set out by the federal government, will remain in place.

The so-called Covid pass entry rules (known as 2G or 3G in Germany) in restaurants and cafes in Berlin will be dropped from next month, meaning people will no longer need to show proof of testing, vaccination or recovery.

And face masks won’t have to be worn in shops or other venues. 

However, the mask mandate will remain in some areas: people will have to wear a medical or FFP2 mask on public transport as well as in nursing homes and hospitals. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s Covid incidence reaches record high before measures are lifted

End to free tests in sight

Coronavirus rapid tests, which are free to people in Germany, will also no longer be available from April, Giffey expects.

The mayor told broadcaster rbb24 that the many testing centres using federal funding would likely not be sustainable, and informed Berliners to “no longer expect to see so many test sites in the city”.

When it comes to testing in schools, Giffey explained that it was important to maintain tests until after the Easter holidays in April, though it is yet to be decided exactly how long the tests will be administered to pupils.

Similarly, the Senate has decided to return to almost regular operation in day-care centres from mid-March, although compulsory testing of children three days a week will continue for now. 

The legal basis for most restrictions ceases to apply nationwide as of March 20th, although the government is set to decide on a new slimmed-down Infection Protection Act by the end of this week

However, federal states are set to be granted a transitional period until April 2nd. 

READ ALSO:

In Berlin, this transitional period is to be in place until the end of the month. Giffey justified maintaining the protective measures for more than 10 extra days, saying: “Overall we have a situation that still poses quite a high risk of infection.”

After this transitional period, only areas deemed coronavirus hotspots can adopt stricter measures, though the federal government is yet to specify the exact criteria for when a city or a state becomes a hotspot. 

After Hamburg, Berlin is currently the federal state with the lowest 7-day incidence, but figures have been rising. According to figures released by the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the incidence in the capital increased to 1,102 infections per 100,000 people on Wednesday, up from 871.8 on Tuesday and almost double compared to the Wednesday the week before. 

Giffey however, said she saw no reason to declare Berlin a hotspot.

“That would only happen if we had a massive increase in the number of infections, a massive increase in the burden on the critical infrastructure and hospitals, health care and intensive care units,” she said.

Berlin also maintains a high vaccination rate, with 77.5 percent of the population having received their first dose, 73.3 percent fully vaccinated and 58.8 percent having had their booster jab.

Divided opinion

While many will have been looking forward to Germany’s version of so-called “freedom day”, others are slightly wary of the sudden lifting of Covid measures.

Patrick Larscheid, a public health officer from Reinickendorf, told rbb’s evening show that the pandemic is being declared “over by decree”, despite still affecting many people.

Meanwhile, other states, including Brandenburg, are likely to maintain many coronavirus measures for a period after March 20th, including the distance requirement and the wearing of FFP2 masks indoors in shops and on public transport.

Member comments

  1. I can see this going 2 ways.
    1. On April first they say April fools there’s no more covid.
    2 April fools. We were never going to ease restrictions. Put on your face nappy and hide in the cellar.

    I’ve got my money on number 2.

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COVID-19 RULES

Bavaria signals end to compulsory masks on public transport

Bavaria's state premier Markus Söder (CSU) has announced plans for a "prompt" end to mandatory masks on buses and trains.

Bavaria signals end to compulsory masks on public transport

If infection levels and hospitalisations remain low, the end of the mask-wearing rule could come as soon as December or January.

“We are convinced that the mask requirement in public transport could also be phased out either in mid-December or early next year, if the numbers remain reasonably stable and there are no new mutations,” Söder explained on Monday, following a meeting with the CSU executive committee. 

A decision on when to end the measure would be made “promptly”, he added.

The CSU politician had said last week that the sinking infection rates meant that compulsory masks were no longer appropriate and that the mandate could be changed to a recommendation. 

No set date for change

The latest version of Bavaria’s Infection Protection Act – which lays out an obligation to wear masks on public transport as one of the few remaining Covid rules – is currently due to expire on December 9th.

State ministers could decide whether to let obligatory masks on buses and trains lapse on this date as early as next week, or they could decide to initially extend the legislation and set an alternative date for ending the rule.

Regardless of their decision, FFP2 masks will continue to be mandatory on long-distance public transport until at least April next year, when the nationwide Infection Protection Act is due to expire.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Germany’s new Covid-19 rules from October

Speaking to Süddeutsche Zeitung on Monday after the meeting of the Council of Ministers, Florian Herrmann (CSU), head of the State Chancellery, confirmed that Covid-19 had been discussed in passing.

However, no decisions or discussions were made on how to proceed after the expiry of the regulation, he said.

According to Herrmann, the fact that Covid was no longer the “dominant topic” in the cabinet under “enormous tension” shows “that we are returning to normality” in a gradual transition from pandemic to endemic. 

As of Wednesday, the 7-day incidence of Covid infections per 100,000 people stood at 108 in Bavaria, down from 111 the previous day. However, experts have cast doubt on how meaningful the incidence is in light of the fact that fewer people are taking tests.

Nevertheless, the 133 hospital beds occupied by Covid patients in the Free State falls well below the 600 threshold for a ‘red alert’. With Omicron causing less severe courses of illness than previous variants, politicians have increasingly focussed on hospitalisation statistics to gauge the severity of the situation.

‘A risk-benefit trade-off’

Bavaria is the second federal state to announce plans to relax its mask-wearing rules in recent weeks.

On November 14th, the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein announced that it would be ending obligatory FFP2 masks on public transport and urged other states to do the same. From January 2023, masks on public transport will only be recommended rather than mandated for passengers on local buses and trains. 

However, the Federal Ministry of Health has urged states not to loosen their rules too quickly.

Given that infection rates are likely to spike again in winter, “there’s no basis for loosening restrictions”, said Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD).

Physicians are also split on whether an end to masks on public transport is appropriate.

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

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) speaks at the German Hospital Day in Düsseldorf on November 14th. Lauterbach is against the lifting of the mask-wearing rule. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Roberto Pfeil

Christoph Spinner, a virologist at the University Hospital in Munich, told Süddeutsche Zeitung he believed it was time to put the decision on mask-wearing back into the hands of individuals.

“Why not? The incidences are low, the danger of Covid-19 has dropped significantly and mortality has also decreased,” he said. 

But the Bavarian General Practitioners’ Association spoke out against the move, arguing that – unlike a trip to a restaurant or cinema – people often have no choice but to travel on public transport.

“If the obligation to wear a mask in public transport is maintained, this will help to protect against a Covid infection on the way to work by bus or train – especially in view of the discontinuation of the obligation to isolate in the event of a Covid infection,” they explained.

Bavaria is one of four states to have recently ended mandatory isolation for people who test positive for Covid. Baden-Württemberg and Schleswig-Holstein both scrapped their isolation mandate last week, while Hesse removed its obligation on Tuesday. 

READ ALSO: Four German states call for end to mandatory Covid isolation

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