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Why Germany is getting rid of compulsory Covid quarantine

Germany will make the quarantine period for Covid-19 voluntary from next month, instead of mandatory. Here's what you need to know.

People stand in a queue for a PCR test in Lübeck, Schleswig-Holstein.
People stand in a queue for a PCR test in Lübeck, Schleswig-Holstein. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christian Charisius

What’s happening?

Since the start of the pandemic, anyone who has tested positive for Covid-19 has been ordered to a complete a quarantine where they are not allowed to leave their house or see anyone else. 

At the moment that quarantine period is 10 days, with an option to shorten it following a negative Covid test taken on the seventh day. 

But now the German government is going in a completely different direction with plans to make the quarantine voluntary rather than obligatory from May 1st.

The changes were agreed by Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) and state health ministers on Monday. 

READ ALSO: Germany to make Covid quarantine compulsory from May 1st

What does this mean for people in Germany?

According to the agreement, people who contract Covid will in future only be “strongly advised” to isolate themselves for five days and to avoid contact. The same will apply to contacts of Covid patients.

So you will no longer receive an order from the public health department saying you must quarantine. 

Stricter regulations, however, are to remain for health and care workers who have get infected.

Why is this changing?

Lauterbach said that the existing regulation had worked, but was not needed in the long term.

In a tweet, he said that it is already difficult for German health authorities to control isolation and quarantine periods.

“The work is almost only bureaucratic documentation (and) has hardly any influence on case numbers,” he said. “Therefore, personal responsibility is enough here. What helps are masks and vaccinations.”

As we mentioned above, an isolation period usually lasts 10 days and can be ended earlier with a negative test after seven days.

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

The background to the relaxation is the current Omicron wave which is presenting many infections – but they are mostly mild rather than causing serious illness like previous Covid variants. 

The change in quarantine rules is also intended to prevent mass staff absences in the event of high infection rates. The changes are based on a proposal by the Health Ministry and the Robert Koch Institute (RKI).

Bavaria’s health minister Klaus Holetschek (CSU) said the move is another step towards personal responsibility in the pandemic, rather than state orders. “I appeal to people to be aware of this responsibility,” he added.

He said it was also clear that important questions still had to be clarified – for example, regarding loss of earnings or sick leave. The federal government has to quickly come up with a sensible proposal, he urged.

The chair of the so-called Conference of Health Ministers, Saxony-Anhalt’s health minister Petra Grimm-Benne (SPD), said: “We consider the planned change in strategy of quarantine and isolation regulations towards more personal responsibility to be justifiable.”

In the current phase of the pandemic, it is “more important than before for each individual to take responsibility for protecting themselves and others from infection”, she added.

Do we have more any more details?

People who get a positive Covid-19 test will receive a strong recommendation asking them to isolate themselves for five days and then – starting after five days – take rapid tests until they are negative. For people in contact with infected Covid patients, the “urgent recommendation” is to reduce contacts independently – especially with people who belong to risk groups. They should also do daily self-tests or antigen tests.

But health authorities should continue to order and monitor quarantines for employees in the health sector, in old people’s and nursing homes as well as in outpatient care services.

According to the plan, a prerequisite for returning to work will be a clear improvement in the symptoms of the disease, and a negative result from a rapid or PCR test taken no earlier than on day five after the infection has been detected. If such employees are in contact with people who have Covid, they should be tested daily up to and including day five before starting work again.

Is there any pushback?

Yes. Patient protection campaigners have slammed the move.

Eugen Brysch, chairman of the German Foundation for Patient Protection said risk groups will be affected.

“The message from the health ministers could hardly be more ambivalent,” he said. “On the one hand, the warning about the virus – on the other hand, downplaying the infection, which is more contagious than ever,” he said.

For high-risk groups “it is becoming more and more dangerous”, he added.

Meanwhile, epidemiologist Hajo Zeeb called for the quarantine order to remain in place.

“If a person has symptoms, they should wait out the Covid infection at home instead of infecting more people,” Zeeb told the Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland.

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Do people in Germany still have to wear Covid masks on planes?

With the EU changing its Covid recommendations for flights, there is some confusion around whether people boarding a plane in Germany will still need to wear a mask. Here's what we know so far.

Do people in Germany still have to wear Covid masks on planes?

As of Monday, the aviation safety agency EASA and the EU health authority ECDC no longer recommend mandatory Covid masks in airports and on planes.

However, if masks are compulsory at the point of departure or destination, this should continue to apply in aircraft as well, they say.

So, what does this mean for passengers boarding flights in Germany? At the moment, not very much at all. 

In Germany, the Infection Protection Act still stipulates that masks have to be worn on long-distance trains and planes. Masks are also compulsory on local public transport.

The previous weeks have seen Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP) come out in favour of scrapping compulsory masks – especially on flights.

But so far, nothing concrete has been done to change the Infection Protection Act, which is due to expire on September 23rd. 

READ ALSO: German politicians row over lifting mandatory Covid mask rule

What are the current rules on flights? 

According to the Federal Ministry of Health, masks are compulsory on all flights taking off or landing in Germany.

FFP2 or medical masks must be worn when boarding and disembarking and throughout the flight, though they can be removed when eating and drinking.

Children under the age of six are exempt from the mask-wearing requirement. 

The ministry has argued that the obligation to wear masks also complies with the new EU recommendations. 

What are the rules acros the EU? 

In general, the relaxed EU recommendation does not mean that masks are no longer compulsory on all flights. However, many countries have kept this measure in place as a simple way to reduce infection. 

Europe’s largest low-cost airline, Ryanair, published a list of 14 EU countries in which national laws continue to require the wearing of face masks to prevent the spread of Covid.

Besides Germany, popular tourist destinations such as Spain, Greece, Portugal, Italy and France are included on the list. 

In other EU countries, the airline said it would be dropping mandatory masks on flights, adding that it “welcomed” the relaxed recommendations from the EU health authorities.  

READ ALSO: Will Germany soon get rid of mandatory face masks on public transport?