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COVID-19 RULES

EXPLAINED: The key Covid rule changes this week in Germany

This week Germany is debating and implementing lots of Covid rule changes. Here's a recap of what's happened and what's to come.

A sign for Covid rapid tests in Dresden, Saxony.
A sign for Covid rapid tests in Dresden, Saxony. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Sebastian Kahnert

What’s happening?

Two years ago, Germany entered its first pandemic lockdown. People faced unprecedented measures as schools, restaurants and bars closed, and people were ordered to restrict socialising and work from home to try and control the spread of coronavirus. 

Restrictions have remained in place since then – although they have changed shape, and have been eased or tightened depending on the situation. 

Now this Sunday will see the end of many Covid restrictions in Germany, and has been likened to the UK’s ‘freedom day’.

That’s because the legal basis for most nationwide restrictions will come to an end and be replaced with a slimmed-down version. 

But it has emerged that several German states will maintain measures as part of a ‘transition period’ towards a more simplified system of restrictions. 

It comes against a backdrop of rising Covid infections in Germany, which has been worrying health experts and some politicians. 

READ ALSO: How worried should we be about Germany’s rising Covid infections?

In future, basic measures will stay in place (like masks on public transport) and tougher measures can only be brought in in areas classified as Covid ‘hotspots’. 

Here’s a breakdown of what’s happened this week, and the changes to expect:

Monday to Wednesday:

On Monday, the Health Committee of the Bundestag held a hearing to outline the new draft of the Infection Protection Act, which will determine which Covid rules remain after the end of most nationwide restrictions on March 20th. The new draft drew criticism from some scientists at the hearing, who described the removal of far-reaching mask mandates as premature given the current record-setting rates of infection.

Tuesday saw the introduction of a partial vaccination mandate for health and care staff in Germany, which will require health and care workers to provide proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19 in order to continue working in hospitals, care homes, and other health-related facilities. There is an exemption from this mandate for those who can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons.

On Wednesday, the politicians in the Bundestag discussed the new draft of the Infection Protection Act, ahead of a vote on Friday.

Thursday:

On Thursday Chancellor Olaf Scholz is set to hold a meeting with representatives of the 16 federal states, in a further discussion of the new Infection Protection Act.

Thursday will also see the Bundestag debate the possibility of a nationwide vaccine mandate, with various proposals on the table including mandatory vaccination for everyone over the age of 18, and a vaccine mandate for over 50s.

A vote on a general vaccine mandate is to take place in early April.

READ ALSO: Will Germany lift its Covid restrictions amid rising infections?

A sign for the Novavax vaccine at a Braunschweig vaccination centre.

A sign for the Novavax vaccine at a Braunschweig vaccination centre. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Moritz Frankenberg

Friday:

On Friday, as mentioned previously, the Bundestag is set to vote on the amendments to the Infection Protection Act. This will effectively rubber stamp Germany’s Covid strategy going forward. 

The weekend:

Finally, as Saturday tips into Sunday, after a week of debate, the old Infection Protection Act will expire at midnight and be replaced by the fresh set of rules. What this looks like will be very different depending on the state you live in. 

Overall, though, the proposals state that the the only restrictions that will remain nationwide by law are a mask requirement in care homes, in hospitals and on local public transport, as well as a testing requirement in schools and care homes (although debates are being held about how long testing will stay in schools).

Covid health pass entry rules (called 2G or 3G in Germany) will fall away. 

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

The new Infection Protection Act will, however, allow for areas to introduce tighter restrictions in response to rising infections, or in order to contain a new variant of concern. That can include reintroducing 2G or 3G in places like restaurants and bars. 

After the expiry of nationwide Covid regulations for workplaces this weekend, it will be up to employers to assess the risks and decide for themselves what workplace coronavirus restrictions to keep in place.

Included in the rule change – according to the draft proposal – is a ‘transition period’ for the federal states, lasting until April 2nd, to allow the federal states to decide for themselves at what speed to phase out restrictions.

For example, the Senate of Berlin decided on Tuesday that the city would keep 2G and 3G restrictions until April 1st. After this date, no Covid documents or masks will be needed to enter shops and venues, and free testing will most likely come to an end.

Similarly, in Brandenburg restrictions such as mask wearing and social distancing will remain in place during this transition period. After this date, in line with nationwide restrictions, mask wearing will remain mandatory in hospitals and care homes, as well as on public transport.

READ ALSO: Several German states plan to extend Covid measures until early April

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TRAVEL NEWS

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?

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