How Germany wants to relax Covid quarantine measures

A proposal by Germany's Health Minister shows plans to shorten the Covid quarantine period, as well as putting the focus on personal responsibility.

A woman looks out the window during isolation following a positive Covid test.
A woman looks out the window during isolation following a positive Covid test. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sebastian Gollnow

Read our most up to date story on this topic here: Germany to make Covid quarantine voluntary from May 1st

Most German states have lifted lots of Covid restrictions this week.

And now the strict quarantine measures for people who get coronavirus are also to be significantly relaxed.  

That’s according to a proposal by the Health Ministry and the Robert Robert Koch Institute (RKI), which health ministers across the states were set to discuss on Monday. 

What’s the proposal?

According to the plan put forward by the ministry, which is led by the SPD’s Karl Lauterbach, people who get Covid-19 would be recommended to isolate themselves for five days and carry out a self test or antigen test after this period. The focus in future will be on voluntary isolation in future – rather than an order from authorities. 

Currently, when people get a positive Covid test they have to quarantine for 10 days, with an option to shorten it after a negative test result take on the seventh day. 

READ ALSO: What to do if you test positive for Covid in Germany

Under the proposal, however, a five-day isolation obligation would apply to employees of medical and nursing facilities because they work with vulnerable people. They would require a negative PCR test to end their quarantine.

It comes after the health ministers of states called on the federal government last Monday to examine “in a timely manner… whether and for how long isolation of infected persons and contacts is indicated in the current pandemic phase of consequence reduction”.

The reason for the planned drastic change is that the requirements for isolation are not practical in the current wave, Lauterbach said last week.

With staff having to stay off for a long time due to quarantine, some industries are being hit hard as Covid travels through the population. 

On Monday evening it emerged that the new plan has been agreed, and will come into force on Monday May 1st.

‘Personal responsibility’

Speaking before the plan was agreed, a spokesman for the Health Minister said the proposal aims to generally shorten the isolation periods both for infected people and for the quarantine of contact persons to five days, and to get rid of the orders from the health offices that have been customary up to now.

Instead of a quarantine obligation, the authorities should “focus on personal responsibility”, Lauterbach spokesman Hanno Kautz told Welt.

“The recommendation is to reduce contacts as much as possible.”

In addition, people living in a household with people who have Covid should also voluntarily reduce their contacts.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Germany’s rules and exceptions for Covid quarantine

What’s the reaction so far?

It’s mixed. The head of the board of the National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians, Andreas Gassen, welcomed the proposal.

“The Omicron wave does bring a lot of infections, but most of them are mild,” he said. Against this background, the proposal for new quarantine rules comes at the right time. “We would otherwise run the risk of crippling important infrastructure in Germany,” he said.

But the German Foundation for Patient Protection called it worrying that staff shortages were fuelling the political discussion.

“For the sick, those in need of care and vulnerable people, such tactics are highly dangerous,” said board member Eugen Brysch. 

Green Party health expert Janosch Dahmen also expressed scepticism.

Greens health spokesperson Janosch Dahmen speaks in the Bundestag

Greens health spokesperson Janosch Dahmen speaks in the Bundestag. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

“In the current pandemic situation, the range of infection courses is extremely high,” he told the Handelsblatt newspaper.

He said there are young vaccinated people whose positive results are asymptomatic, but also “many symptomatic infections that last significantly longer than five days, and there is still a relevant number of severe or chronic courses”.

In the case of an infection, “consistent isolation and recovery continue to be necessary in order to recover quickly and completely and not to infect other people”, said Dahmen.

An end to isolation is “only possible responsibly after the symptoms have completely subsided and a negative test has been carried out”.

The head of the German Hospital Association, Gerald Gaß, said of the proposal: “If it is scientifically comprehensible and harmless to health, a shortening of the quarantine and isolation period is definitely the right thing to do.”

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How useful are Germany’s Covid restrictions?

Protective measures such as wearing a mask correctly and lockdowns can be effective in the fight against Covid, an expert commission in Germany has found. But many questions remain unanswered.

How useful are Germany's Covid restrictions?

The council of experts spent months evaluating the effects of measures imposed by the German government to help slow down the spread of Covid-19.

In the presentation of their findings on Friday, the panel said that measures like mask-wearing have had an effect, and can continue to be helpful against coronavirus.

The council said masks could be “an effective instrument”, but that there are limitations.

“An ill-fitting or not tight-fitting mask has a reduced to no effect,” said the council.

If masks are made compulsory again in the future, this should only apply indoors, because the risk of infection is higher there, the report said. 

However the experts added: “A general recommendation to wear FFP2 masks cannot be derived from the data so far.” Virologist Hendrick Streeck, who is on the panel, said that a “separate commission should look into this”.

READ ALSO: Germany’s current Covid mask rules 

On lockdowns, the experts said the usefulness of this measure depended on the infection situation. 

“When only a few people are infected, lockdown measures have a significantly stronger effect,” the report said. The longer a lockdown lasts, and the fewer people are willing to support the measure, the lesser the effect, experts added. 

Similar to to lockdown measures, contact tracing was also found to be effective in the early phases of the pandemic.

Members of the Covid expert panel Jutta Allmendinger, Hendrik Streeck, Harald Wilkoszewski and Helga Rübsamen-Schaeff speak on Friday.

Members of the Covid expert panel Jutta Allmendinger, Hendrik Streeck, Harald Wilkoszewski and Helga Rübsamen-Schaeff speak on Friday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Fabian Sommer

The report authors also said that the success of access restrictions, such as the 2G/3G measures (which mean people have to be vaccinated, recovered or tested to enter a public venue), depended on when people had had their jab or had been infected with Covid.

“The effect of 2G/3G measures is high with current variants in the first weeks after booster vaccination or recovery,” the report says. However, the protection against infection decreases significantly over time. 

In the current phase of the pandemic, it’s difficult to assess how useful these rules are, said the council. They recommended that in future, tests should be recommended as a condition of entry, regardless of vaccination status. 

Meanwhile, the evaluation concluded that risk communication in Germany was poorly used and that the information campaign to the public could have been better designed.

No statement on vaccinations

There are measures on which the committee did not make any statements, including vaccinations. Virologist Streek said that was the task of the Standing Commission on Vaccination (STIKO).

The experts were also weren’t clear on the controversial topic of school closures. Their effectiveness is “still open, despite biological plausibility and numerous studies”, the report said. The panel called for more studies on school closures.

READ ALSO: German Health Ministry lays out autumn Covid plan

The researchers said that they struggled to evaluate some measures due to poor data, and urged authorities to adopt better methods and practices on that front. 

“We have a poor data situation,” said virologist Streeck. 

As Germany is preparing for possible Covid waves in autumn, the Health Ministry will be looking at the report closely.

But Greens’ health expert Janosch Dahmen said the findings were of limited significance.

“The report provides supplementary evidence, but by no means a conclusive assessment of the effect of Covid protection measures,” said Dahmen.

The completion of the report, which should have been published on June 30th, was delayed.

In the run-up, the head of the council of experts, Stefan Huster, dampened expectations for the report.

“Anyone expecting a list with a plus or a minus behind all the individual measures for ‘effective’ or ‘not effective’ will be disappointed,” Huster told Spiegel. “Our perspective is more fundamental and looks at the structures, in terms of being well prepared for a pandemic.”

The panel, which included scientists and researchers in various fields, was commissioned by the German government to carry out the research.