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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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?