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'Mistake': German Health Minister makes U-turn on voluntary Covid isolation

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'Mistake': German Health Minister makes U-turn on voluntary Covid isolation
Health Minister Karl Lauterbach speaks at a press conference in Berlin on Monday about quarantine rule changes. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bernd von Jutrczenka

German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said he "made a mistake" by announcing plans to end mandatory Covid-19 quarantine - and it will instead continue to be a state order.

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Lauterbach said on Monday that people who tested positive for coronavirus from May 1st onwards would not be given a state-ordered quarantine - instead they would be strongly advised to isolate for five days.

But the Social Democrat has now backed down on this move.

"Ending the ordering of isolation after corona infection by the health authorities in favour of people doing it voluntarily would be wrong and will not come," Lauterbach wrote on Twitter at around 2.30am on Wednesday. "This is where I made a mistake. It does relieve the burden on the health offices. But the signal is wrong and harmful."

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He went on to say that Covid is "not a cold".

"Therefore, there must be further isolation after infection. Ordered and controlled by the health authorities. More on this tomorrow. The mistake was mine and has nothing to do with the FDP or relaxation. It was about relieving the health authorities."

More information is expected later on Wednesday. 

Lauterbach had told broadcaster ZDF late on Tuesday that the voluntary isolation of people infected with Covid planned for May 1st would not take place. However, the plan to shorten isolation to five days will remain in place. 

What did Lauterbach and state health ministers decide?

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

The Health Ministry's proposal - which was backed by state health ministers - was to reduce this isolation period to five days from May 1st. And they said that people with a positive Covid-19 test would receive a strong recommendation - rather than an order - asking them to isolate themselves for five days.

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However, an official quarantine order was to remain in place for health workers. 

Lauterbach said on ZDF that that plan was decided in order to try and relieve the health authorities, who are struggling to cope with the amount of Covid infections in Germany.

But he said this decision sends the wrong message.

"It then remains the case that if someone is ill, i.e. has become infected, then the health department continues to order it," Lauterbach said.

The chairman of the German Foundation for Patient Protection, Eugen Brysch, welcomed the U-turn. 

"Infected people infect other people with the virus and endanger especially immunocompromised people living among us," he said. "Covid is not a cold."

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