‘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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EXPLAINED: Germany’s planned changes to Covid vaccination status

From October, there will be changes to who is considered fully vaccinated in Germany. Here's what we know so far.

EXPLAINED: Germany's planned changes to Covid vaccination status

People in Germany have to pay close attention to their current vaccination status because of an important change coming up. 

From October 1st 2022, those who have not received their Covid booster vaccination will be considered unvaccinated. 

A spokesman from the German Health Ministry told The Local: “People who have a double vaccination will generally no longer be considered fully vaccinated from October 1st 2022, according to the innovations in infection protection.

“Accordingly, the EU Covid digital vaccination certificate will be shown as invalid for domestic use when checked with the CovPassCheck app.”

However, there are slightly different rules for entry into Germany. 

The Health Ministry spokesman said: “In the context of entry, according to European law, an EU digital Covid vaccination certificate will continue to be valid after October 1st 2022 for a double vaccination if no more than 270 days have passed since the last vaccination dose, or indefinitely for persons under 18.”

READ ALSO: EU extends Covid travel certificates until 2023

Note that in Germany, the recovered status is believed to offer a similar level of immunity to a vaccination. So people who have recovered from a Covid infection will only need two jabs to be considered “fully immunised” from October.

What are the different combinations?

Here’s a look at what applies now, and what the rules will be from October. 

Since March 19th 2022, the Infection Protection Act has specified the conditions that have to be met to be considered fully vaccinated against Covid-19 in Germany.

Up until September 30th 2022, these scenarios count as complete vaccination protection:

– Three vaccination shots (basic immunisation plus booster)

– Two single vaccinations (two weeks must have passed after the last dose)

– One vaccination PLUS

a positive antibody test before the first vaccination OR

a PCR-proven SARS-CoV-2 infection before first vaccination OR

a SARS-CoV-2 infection detected by PCR test after first vaccination; 28 days must have passed since testing.

After October 1st 2022 you are fully vaccinated in Germany in these scenarios:

– After three vaccination shots (the last jab must have taken place at least three months after the second single vaccination),

– Two single vaccinations PLUS

a positive antibody test before the first vaccination OR

a PCR-proven SARS-CoV-2 infection before the second vaccination OR

a PCR-tested SARS-CoV-2 infection after the second vaccination (28 days must have elapsed since testing).

Vaccinations must have been administered with vaccines licensed by the European Union or vaccines approved abroad that have the same formula as one of the EU-approved vaccines. 

Germany’s Standing Committee on Vaccination (STIKO) recommends that everyone over the age of 12 who has had two jabs should get a booster vaccination. Children aged 5 to 11 with pre-existing diseases should also receive a booster vaccination after basic immunisation, according to STIKO.

It is recommended in Germany that some people receive a fourth jab – or a second booster shot. However, currently this is only a recommendation for risk groups, such as the elderly. 

Why is this important to know?

At the moment there are very few Covid restrictions in place in Germany. However, it could be the case that tougher rules are brought in after summer if the infection situation worsens. 

That could mean that people would once more have to show proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative test (the so-called 3G rule) to enter public facilities, such as restaurants, bars or museums. 

If the situation gets worse, the government could also bring in the 2G rule, which means unvaccinated people are not allowed to enter.

READ ALSO: Germany lays out autumn Covid plan

Up until now 76.2 percent of the German population has had two shots, and 61.6 percent have been boosted. 

Up-to-date information on Covid-19 vaccines and the regulations around it is available on the Germany Health Ministry site (in German). Talk to your GP if you have any questions about Covid vaccines in Germany.