German Health Minister defends lifting of Covid measures

The Local
The Local - [email protected] • 21 Mar, 2022 Updated Mon 21 Mar 2022 12:11 CEST
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Karl Lauterbach, German Health Minister, in the Bundestag. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach has urged German states to cooperate with the relaxed Covid restrictions, saying the country can no longer justify having tough rules in place.

At the weekend, Germany let its former Covid infection protection laws fall away, and introduced new legislation with relaxed rules. 

Under the changes, people don't need to show proof of vaccination, recovery or a test (the so-called 2G/3G-rule entry system) before going to indoor public places, on public transport or in the workplace. 

People will also no longer have to wear masks on long-distance public transport like trains, in restaurants/bars and in shops. Basic protection measures will continue, for instance the wearing of masks in local public transport, old people's homes, doctors' surgeries and hospitals.

But the government has come under fire from many German states and others, who say it's irresponsible in the face of rising Covid infections.

Many states have made use of a transition period and will only remove rules, such as mask wearing and 3G in restaurants and bars, at the end of March or beginning of April.

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

Yet Health Minister Lauterbach on Sunday once again defended the end of many Covid protection requirements and called on the states to implement the new legal basis after the transition period. 

"We cannot keep cutting and limiting the liberties of the entire population just because 10 percent of those over 60 are not willing to be vaccinated," the SPD politician told German broadcaster ARD on Sunday.

The protections do not have to expire now, Lauterbach stressed - under the transition period they can continue for two more weeks until April 2nd.

"It may be that by then the case numbers will be more stable again or even decrease," he said. If not, restrictions can be tightened in so-called "hotspots" with particularly high case numbers, added Lauterbach.

The minister admitted that this was the first time the federal government had made changes to the law without involving states, but he appealed to states not to sulk about it, adding that the legal tools were there to appropriately respond to the Covid situation. 

He said if a whole state had lots of areas with rising Covid infections then it was possible that for it to be classed as a Covid "hotspot" and tougher measures brought in. 

The SPD politician called on unvaccinated elderly people in particular to get their jabs in view of high infection rates.

"They are at the highest risk," Lauterbach said. Germany is in a difficult situation because a large number of older people have not been vaccinated.

The Health Minister said it was important to keep encouraging people to get vaccinated, and advocated for a general vaccine mandate.

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