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

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.

'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

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.”

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.

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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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?