Germany should avoid talk of ‘freedom day’, says Health Minister

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach says Germany is in the grip of a severe Covid wave and has urged states to make use of a law that will keep tougher measures in place.

German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach speaks at a press conference on Friday.
German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach speaks at a press conference on Friday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

In a press conference held on Friday in Berlin, Lauterbach said that the pandemic was “far from over”.

“We are in a situation where we cannot simply wait and see,” Lauterbach said.

On Thursday, German health offices reported more than 300,000 infections within a day – a record high.

READ ALSO: Germany logs 1.5 million weekly infections as Omicron subtype spreads

But Lauterbach said the real figures are likely twice as high. 

“It is unfortunately not a good situation,” he said. 

The Health Minister also warned that the death toll could rise in the coming weeks, even if new infections stabilise.

On Friday Germany reported 296,498 Covid infections per 100,000 people and 288 deaths within the latest 24 hour period. The 7-day incidence was 1,7654.4 infections per 100,000 people.

‘No freedom day’

Germany is in the process of relaxing Covid restrictions. In fact, the country was set to drop almost all Covid restrictions on March 20th, but most states used a transitional period to extend current restrictions until the beginning of April.

The amended Infection Protection Act has been met with widespread protest from the states who have slammed it for being irresponsible and not easy to implement. 

However, Lauterbach urged states to make use of a ‘hotspot’ mechanism in the new Covid protection laws that mean tougher restrictions – like the ‘G’ rules for entering places like restaurants – can remain if needed.

“There can be no talk of a ‘freedom day’ – quite the opposite,” said the SPD politician. 

“We must also use the hotspot regulation.”

He cited Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania as an example of how the rule could be applied by state parliaments. 

The northern state this week voted to extend Covid restrictions until April 27th using the ‘hotspot’ regulation as a legal basis.

Lauterbach said an overload of the health system can be measured and used to activate the regulation – for instance if scheduled operations have to be postponed or patients transferred.

He also reiterated that hotspots can be an entire federal state.

During the press conference Lauterbach urged people to get vaccinated – and for risk groups to get their second booster shot. 

The Health Minister even outlined how Germany is in a different position to countries like the UK.

Unlike in Britain, where the number of cases is also rising, there are five to 10 times as many people over the age of 60 at risk in Germany, he said. 

Member comments

  1. A. Lauterbach really wants 16 state size Hotspots so he can push his mandates through.

    The UK is absolutely comparable. Germany has a slightly higher vaccination rate. (Only very slight).
    The same percentage of infection amongst the population.
    A lower average death rate around 150-200 per day.

    Age distribution is at ages 15-64 is 52.3% in Germany and 54.9% in England.

    You can compare the 2 but lauterbach needs his sptiz.
    Pro mandate pro jab pro lockdown yada yada. Whe will this madness end?

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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