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COVID-19 RULES

German ‘hotspot’ states to lift most Covid restrictions

The majority of people in Germany have been enjoying the reopening of public life for almost a month - but two 'hotspot' states still have tough rules in place. When will the measures in these states end?

Mandatory masks in Hamburg
A man carries away a sign for mandatory masks in Hamburg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Daniel Reinhardt

Since April 2nd, most of the Germany’s federal states have been operating with bare-bones Covid measures in place.

These include a basic requirement to wear masks on public transport and in places like care homes and clinics, though mask-wearing in shops has gone and there are no requirements to show a vaccine pass or negative test when going about your everyday life.

When the dropping of restrictions was announced, however, two states chose to take advantage of a get-out clause known as the ‘hotspot’ regulation. This allowed regions to define themselves as high-incidence areas and keep a number of restrictions in place.

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Hamburg was one of the states that decided to do this.

For the past month, the northern city-state has kept masks in place in pretty much all indoor public spaces, including shops, bars, restaurants, and all culture and leisure venues. 

People have also been expected to comply with strict entry policies in clubs and discos: to go out dancing in Hamburg, you currently need both a vaccination or recovery certificate and an official negative test. This system is known as 2G-plus. 

When will the rules change?

Hamburg’s hotspot regulations end automatically at the end of April, and with infection rates falling and the weather getting warmer, there isn’t much appetite to keep them.

On Tuesday, the Hamburg Senate met to discuss future measures – including mask-wearing and testing in schools. At the moment, the expectation is that Hamburg will join other states in dropping masks in most indoor public spaces and ending 2G-plus in clubs. 

In recent weeks, some states have started to phase out tests in schools, which pupils have until recently been expected to take three times a week.

Having already loosened mask-wearing rules in classrooms, it’s likely that the city-state will now go further and set out a place for reducing tests or ending them entirely. Mandatory masks in schools are expected to end on May 1st when other rules are dropped.

READ ALSO: German schools phase out mandatory Covid tests for pupils

What other states have kept rules in place?

The only other state to take advantage of the Covid hotspot clause was the northeastern state of Mecklenburg Western-Pomerania.

Initially, Mecklenburg kept the so-called 3G rule in place in most public venues, which meant people had to present either a negative test or proof of vaccination or recovery to enter. It also kept mandatory masks in place for most indoor spaces, much like Hamburg. 

However, on April 22nd, the court in Greifswald partially overturned these rules, meaning that masks and 3G are no longer required in places like bars and restaurants.

Currently, only tourists are subject to the 3G rule – which primarily applies in hotels and other overnight accommodation.

Interestingly enough, compulsory masks are now only needed in public transport and in tourist hotspots, including:

  • at conference centres,
  • at cultural events and in cultural venues 
  • in tourist accommodation

Aside from masks on public transport, all of these rules are expected to end on Thursday, April 28th. 

Tests are also being phased out in schools. From April 29th, only pupils with Covid symptoms will be required to take a test

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COVID-19 VACCINES

Germany’s top court approves Covid vaccine mandate for health workers

Germany's highest court ruled on Thursday that the mandatory Covid-19 vaccination rule for employees in health and care sectors is constitutional.

Germany's top court approves Covid vaccine mandate for health workers

From mid-March this year, health and care workers in Germany have had to prove they are vaccinated against Covid-19 or recently recovered. 

If they can’t provide this proof they face fines or even bans from working – however it is unclear how widely it has been enforced due to concerns over staff shortages. 

On Thursday the constitutional court rejected complaints against the partial vaccination mandate, saying the protection of vulnerable people outweighs any infringement of employees’ rights.

The law covers employees in hospitals as well as care homes, clinics, emergency services, doctors’ surgeries and facilities for people with disabilities. 

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Germany’s Covid vaccine mandate for health staff

The court acknowledged that the law meant employees who don’t want to be vaccinated would have to deal with professional consequences or change their job – or even profession. 

However, the obligation to be vaccinated against Covid as a health or care worker is constitutionally justified and proportionate, according to the judges.

They said that’s because compulsory vaccination in this case is about protecting elderly and sick people. These groups are at increased risk of becoming infected by Covid-19 and are more likely to become seriously ill or die.

The protection of vulnerable groups is of “paramount importance”, the resolution states.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach welcomed Thursday’s ruling and thanked health care facilities who have already implemented the vaccine mandate. He said: “The state is obliged to protect vulnerable groups”.

Course of the pandemic doesn’t change things

According to the ruling, the development of the pandemic in Germany is no reason to change course. 

The court based its decision on the assessment of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) and medical societies, stating that it could still be assumed that a vaccination would protect against the Omicron variant.

It’s true that the protection of vaccines decreases over time, and most courses of disease are milder with the Omicron variant. Nevertheless, the institution-based vaccination obligation remains constitutional because, according to the experts, the higher risk for old and sick people has not fundamentally changed.

A vaccine mandate that would have affected more of the population in Germany was rejected by the Bundestag in a vote held in April

MPs had been allowed to vote with their conscience on the issue rather than having to vote along party lines. 

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