Germany to shorten mandatory Covid isolation

German health ministers have agreed to reduce the minimum period of self-isolation with a Covid infection to just five days.

Covid self-isolation
A woman looks out of her window during a period of self-isolation. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sebastian Gollnow

The move was announced by the health ministry in Saxony-Anhalt, which currently chairs the Conference of Health Ministers, late on Thursday following a meeting of the federal and state health ministers.

At the start of next week, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) will revise the duration of self-isolation and quarantine to a minimum of five days, it was announced. 

Currently people have to isolate for up to 10 days with a Covid infection and can only end it after a week with a negative test.  

The ministers are also mulling over plans to end mandatory quarantine period for contacts of infected people. Instead, quarantine is likely to be “strongly recommended”. 

The health ministers say that the relaxation of the rules can be justified by increased immunity in the population and the fact that the Omicron variant of Covid-19 generally causes milder courses of the disease. 

“It’s gratifying that all states have agreed on a uniform procedure based on the scientific expertise of the RKI,” Saxony-Anhalt’s health minister Petra Grimm-Benne (SPD) said at the press conference.

READ ALSO: German ministers poised to relax Covid quarantine rules nationwide

However, federal and state ministers may be set to clash over whether people should continue to take a test in order to be released from self-isolation.

“Personally, I believe that at the end of five days – which is a very short time – at least self-testing should be urgently recommended,” federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) said in an interview with ARD on Friday. “Because we know that many are still positive after the fifth day, and they would then still infect others.”

Different isolation rules across states

It comes after several states already started the process of shortening the isolation period in the past few weeks.

So far, all of them have chosen to ditch the “test-to-release” scheme and rely on symptoms instead.

Ahead of the meeting, Bavaria, Saxony and Thuringia cut the duration of quarantine to five days for people who are symptom-free for at least 48 hours beforehand. 

Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate said they intended to follow suit. The other states will change their regulations after the meeting on Thursday. 

Currently, isolation and quarantine generally lasts 10 days but can be ended prematurely with a negative test after seven days at the earliest.

Recently vaccinated and recovered people and those who’ve had a booster jab aren’t required to quarantine after having contact with an infected person, but everyone else must isolate themselves for at least a week. 

At the start of April, Lauterbach announced plans to end mandatory self-isolation and then swiftly backtracked on the idea, saying it had been a “clear mistake”.

Some states, including Bavaria, are still calling for compulsory isolation to end as part of a phased plan for loosening Covid restrictions.  

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

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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?