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Which ‘hotspot’ German states are keeping Covid rules in place?

While most states ditched Covid-19 measures overnight on Saturday, a couple are keeping the rules in place via a special regulation in the new Covid Infection Protection Law.

A sign on a shop window (L) informs visitors that the 2G/3G access rules are no longer needed
A sign on a shop window (L) informs visitors that the 2G/3G access rules are no longer needed as Covid-19 measures are relaxed in Berlin. (Photo by MICHELE TANTUSSI / AFP)

Despite protests from several federal states, the legal basis for the two-week extension of Covid restrictions expired overnight and, with it, measures like the ‘G’ Covid entry pass system to get into public places like restaurants have also come to an end across most of Germany.

Germany’s coalition government pushed through the new legal framework that brought about the extensive end of Covid-19 measures with the justification that the health system was not overloaded at a national level and that stricter rules could be issued regionally, if necessary.

So, as of Sunday, April 3rd, 2G and 3G access rules no longer apply in most German states. That means people no longer have to show proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative test to visit most public places. 

With restrictions mostly over, it’s no longer compulsory to wear masks in shops, museums, restaurants or schools across most of Germany – unless the company, shop or facility requires them, which it is allowed to do irrespective of national or state rules.

Berlin was ahead of the game and already ditched most Covid rules on Friday, April 1st.

This means that in most states there are now only a few settings where you need to wear a mask, such as areas where there are vulnerable people like hospitals and nursing homes, as well as on long-distance public transport.

State differences

However, restrictions are still in force in some states.

Two states – Hamburg and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania – have declared themselves ‘hotspots’, which means they can keep existing Covid-19 restrictions, such as the mask mandate and 2G/3G requirements for access to public places.

The differences were already apparent on Sunday. For example, if you wanted to go shopping in Hamburg, you needed an FFP2 mask. But just over the city limits in Schleswig-Holstein or Lower Saxony, you could go into shops without one.

The ‘hotspot’ regulation is part of the new Covid Infection Protection Law; if state parliaments believe there is a critical situation – whether that’s in a city district, a state or the entire country – and vote it in, then tougher Covid measures, such as the mask mandate, ‘G’ access requirements, or social distancing, can remain or be reintroduced.

This is what Hamburg and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania have done. Other states, including Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg, have so far said they do not see a legal basis for introducing the rule.

However, the criteria for what constitutes a hotspot is not exactly crystal clear, which has made several of the states unhappy.

The Covid Infection Protection Law says hotspots are areas where “there is a concrete risk of a dynamically spreading infection situation” in a “specifically named regional authority” but does not set a threshold for this.

The general prerequisite, however, is either that a dangerous virus variant is circulating, or particularly high case numbers are putting hospitals at risk of becoming overwhelmed. 

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach recently named specific criteria to measures the latter: if hospitals could no longer provide emergency care – because of too many Covid patients or staff shortages, if they had to cancel scheduled procedures or transfer patients to other hospitals – as well as if specifications on a minimum presence of nursing staff could not be met.

However, the hotspot measures don’t last indefinitely: unless parliament extends them, they expire automatically three months after introduction.

The hotspot rule of the new law is valid until September 23rd, but a follow-up law could be implemented in autumn if, for example, there is another surge in cases that puts hospital capacity at risk.

Cases remain high

Although the number of new infections has been falling across Germany for a few days, they’re still high.

On Sunday, the number of new infections nationally per 100,000 people stood at 1,457.9, down from 1,723.8 a week earlier, according to the Robert Koch Institute.

Hamburg and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania may be the only designated hotspots at this time, but the only federal state with a seven-day incidence of fewer than 1,000 Covid infections per 100,000 people is Berlin at 872.4.

The incidence rate in Hamburg stands at 1,196.2 with Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania at 1,806.0, the fifth highest level out of the 16 states. It’s Saarland, however, that has the most infections currently with an incidence rate of 2,210.9 – the only federal state with an incidence above 2,000.


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Bavaria pushes for stricter Covid regulations in autumn

Health ministers across Germany's 16 states are debating the government's new Covid plan - and politicians in Bavaria say they want more clarity.

Bavaria pushes for stricter Covid regulations in autumn

On Tuesday, federal and state health ministers planned to discuss the Covid protection proposals for autumn and winter presented last week by Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) and Justice Minister Marco Buschmann (FDP).

However, some states and politicians are not satisfied with the plans. 

Under the proposals, masks will remain mandatory in air and long-distance transport, as well as clinics, nationwide. But federal states will be able to choose themselves whether to introduce further measures like mandatory masks on public and regional transport.

States will also have the power to take tougher Covid measures if the situation calls for it, such as mandatory masks indoors, but lockdowns and school closures have been ruled out. 

READ ALSO Masks and no lockdowns: Germany’s new Covid plan from autumn to Easter

The draft law states that there can be exceptions from wearing masks in indoor spaces, such as restaurants, for recently Covid-vaccinated or recovered people. 

But Bavaria’s health minister Klaus Holetschek (CSU) told DPA that these planned exemptions were not justified because vaccinated and recovered people can still transmit infections. “There are clear gaps in the current draft law,” said the CSU politician.

Dominik Spitzer, health policy spokesman for the FDP parliamentary group in the Bavarian state parliament, also questioned this exception, saying the rules “simply made no sense”.

“With the current virus variant, that would be impossible to convey, since even vaccinated people can continue to carry the virus,” the FDP politician told Bavarian broadcaster BR24. 

The coalition government’s graduated plan under the new Infection Protection Act, is set to be in force from October 1st until April 7th next year. 

The powers for the states are a first step, “but they do not go far enough for us”, Holetschek added, while calling for some points to be tightened up. “We need strong guidelines for autumn and winter.”

Holetschek said the government needed to tighten up the criteria with which states can adopt and enforce more effective measures to protect against the spread of Covid-19.

READ ALSO: Could Germany see a ‘patchwork’ of Covid rules?

Meanwhile, CDU health politician Erwin Rüddel said Germany was on the “wrong track” and the country should find “a completely different approach” to Covid policy than it has so far.

He accused the coalition government of being in “panic mode” and said he doubted the Bundestag would pass the proposals.

“I believe, there will be significant changes (to the draft)”, he said.

But the chairperson of the doctors’ association Marburger Bund, Susanne Johna, backed the plans.

“The proposal for the new Infection Protection Act gives the states sufficient possibilities to react adequately to the infection situation,” Johna told the Rheinische Post on Tuesday.

“The states can take regionally adapted measures to protect people if the need arises. I can’t understand why this concept is being called into question right away.”