German ministers poised to relax Covid quarantine rules nationwide

The federal and state health ministers were set to meet Thursday to discuss uniform rules for Covid isolation - but a handful of German states have already gone their own way.

German ministers poised to relax Covid quarantine rules nationwide
A woman self-isolates at home. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sebastian Gollnow

According to a spokesperson from the health ministry in Saxony-Anhalt, the aim of Thursday’s meeting is to unify rules for quarantine and self-isolation nationwide.

This could include shortening the duration of mandatory self-isolation and quarantine to just five days – most likely only for those who have no symptoms on the fifth day.

At the start of April, Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) and the state health ministers had unveiled plans to make Covid self-isolation voluntary for everyone except health-sector workers.

Instead, a five-day isolation period would have been “strongly recommended” by the government. 

The move was intended to reduce the strain on local health authorities, who are responsible for enforcing the mandatory isolation rules. 

They had also planned to cut the recommended duration of isolation for infected people to just five days.

But within a matter of days, Lauterbach backtracked on the proposals, saying the idea of making isolation voluntary had been a “clear mistake”. 

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

However, he said the government still planned to reduce the period of mandatory quarantine for contacts of Covid patients and self-isolation for those with proven infections to five days.

“We still agree that we have to prepare a change of strategy for quarantine and isolation regulations,” Saxony-Anhalt’s health minister Petra Grimm-Benne (SPD) said at the time. 

The ministers had arranged to meet again to discuss this option.

Breakaway states 

Between Lauterbach’s U-turn and the meeting of the health ministers on Thursday, Bavaria, Saxony and Thuringia all introduced legislation reducing the duration of quarantine by themselves. 

In all three states, people with a proven Covid infection can now leave their homes after just five days without a test – provided they’ve been symptom-free for 48 hours beforehand.

The states have also scrapped the obligation to quarantine as a contact person of someone with Covid.

Previously, the exemption from quarantine had only applied to recently vaccinated and recovered people, and people with a booster jab.

Bavarian health minister Klaus Holetschek (CSU)

Bavarian health minister Klaus Holetschek (CSU) takes part in a press conference after a cabinet meeting in Bavaria. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sven Hoppe

Ahead of the meeting on Thursday, physicians called on the ministers to introduce uniform rules for self-isolation throughout Germany.

There is a need for “clear regulations that do not differ from state to state”, Susanne Johna, chair of the doctors’ union Marburger Bund, told the Funke Media Group. 

READ ALSO: Bavaria cuts Covid quarantine time to five days

Bavaria’s health minister Klaus Holetschek (CSU), who oversaw the changing of the rules in the southern state on April 13th, is now pushing for isolation to be made voluntary as part of a phased timetable for loosening restrictions. 

“If the pressure of infection continues to subside, isolation should become voluntary as part of a second stage,” he said. 

Holetschek admitted that infections could start to rise again in autumn. “At the moment, however, these relaxations are justifiable and sensible,” he argued. 

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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.