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EXPLAINED: The Covid measures across German states

The German government has relaxed Covid protection laws, but several states have extended them. We break down what it all means.

Passers-by walk through Kaufingerstraße in Munich's city centre.
Passers-by walk through Kaufingerstraße in Munich's city centre. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Matthias Balk

What applies from March 20th?

On Sunday, most of Germany’s Covid protection measures fell away, signalling the country’s own ‘freedom day’.

But states, who have been grumbling about the plan to relax Covid restrictions, have postponed the lifting of measures as part of a transitional phase in view of rising Covid infections. 

On Monday Germany reached a record high 7-day incidence of 1,714.1 Covid infections per 100,000 people.

What applies in your German state now?

Originally, all far-reaching Covid-19 measures were to be dropped from March 20th onwards. But states can still extend the extensive measures that apply under the old Infection Protection Act until April 2nd – and most have. 

Here’s a look at state plans for relaxing Covid measures:

Baden-Württemberg: Transitional phase applies until April 2nd. No relaxations of rules are planned until then.

Bavaria: Transitional phase applies until April 2nd. Fairs and public festivals will be permitted from March 20th. Capacity and person caps as well as the special rules for religious services will be dropped. From March 21st, the mask requirement at primary and special schools will no longer apply. As of March 28th, the mask requirement for 5th and 6th grades will also be dropped.

Berlin: Transitional phase applies until March 31st.

Brandenburg: Transitional phase applies until April 2nd.

Bremen: Protective measures continue to apply until April 2nd.

Hamburg: Transitional phase applies until April 2nd. 

Hesse: Transitional phase applies until April 2nd. 

Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania: Transitional phase applies until April 2nd.

North Rhine-Westphalia: Transitional phase applies until April 2nd.

Lower Saxony: Contact restrictions in the private sphere end from March 20th. Transitional phase applies until April 2nd.

Rhineland-Palatinate: Transitional phase applies until April 2nd.

Saarland: Transitional phase applies until March 31st. 

Saxony: Contact restrictions will be abolished as of March 20th. There are to be no limits on capacity for events. Further openings possible from April 2nd.

Saxony-Anhalt: Transitional phase to possibly apply until April 2nd.

Schleswig-Holstein: A transitional phase is to apply until April 2nd.

Thuringia: Transitional phase to apply until April 2nd.

What about riding public transport?

On local public transport you will still generally need to wear a mask and have proof of vaccination, testing or recovery until the transition period ends in the state in question. After April 2nd, masks will likely remain on local transport but not the 3G rule. 

On long distance transport you don’t need stick to the 3G rule anymore, unless you are in the catering carriage where rules are stricter until April 2nd. However, you will need to continue to wear an FFP2 mask for the time being.

What about workplace rules?

Technically, from March 20th the so-called ‘home office obligation’ fell away, as well as the need for employees to provide proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative test to go into their workplace. However, regions may be able to extend some of these rules in the transition phase. Check with your employer and local government to be sure.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What are Germany’s new Covid workplace rules

What happens in April?

After April 2nd (or earlier in some cases), the transition period ends. From this date there is no legal basis for far-reaching Covid-19 measures. 

The new version of the Infection Protection Act will come into force, which will see most Covid restrictions dropped. 

That includes the ‘G-rule’ entry systems for public spaces (i.e. ‘2G’ and ‘3G’) that require people to show proof of vaccination, recovery or a test before entering a venue. 

READ MORE: EXPLAINED – The streamlined Covid measures coming in force in Germany

It will also include things like maximum capacities and hygiene concepts for sports, leisure and cultural venues. 

Instead, only “basic protection” will remain in place, which means masks and testing regulations will apply only for particularly vulnerable groups and in facilities such as old people’s homes and hospitals. 

So we won’t see tough Covid measures again?

Not necessarily. There is a clause in the law that says an area classed as a Covid “hotspot” can get tougher measures, like 3G or 2G rules. 

However, state leaders say there are high hurdles for doing this, and believe it will be difficult to bring in more restrictions. 

The new Infection Protection Act is set to expire on September 23rd. The Federal Ministry of Health sees the possibility of adopting a new regulation after the parliamentary summer recess, if necessary.

What happens with free Covid tests?

Free tests are expected to remain in place until at least April 2nd in Germany. 

But it’s likely they will be lifted soon – although nothing concrete has been set out yet. 

Member comments

  1. So we basically have this simulated freedom within reach, in the form of a transition phase until April when we go back into a quasi, semi, unvaccinated lockdown again?

    Can we just call this what it is? Buying time to get to the vaccine mandate vote.

    If there’s no restrictions on the population the vote fails. But, keeps these restrictions and a mandate vote will free us from this.

    Long live lockdowns.

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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