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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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.