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KEY POINTS: Germany sets out new Covid isolation rules

German health experts have recommended that states shorten the mandatory Covid isolation period to five days, but have urged people to take a test after this time. Here's the latest.

A test centre in Rostock, northern Germany.
A test centre in Rostock, northern Germany. The German Health Minister has urged people with Covid to take a test before ending their isolation. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bernd Wüstneck

Anyone who gets Covid-19 in Germany in future will still have to complete a mandatory quarantine ordered by the public health department. But the isolation period can be ended after five days.

That’s according to the new isolation and quarantine recommendations from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) and the German Health Ministry, which were published on Monday. 

“They are an expression of our scientific assessment that coronavirus remains dangerous, but that after infection with an Omicron variant, the incubation periods and the course of the disease are shorter,” said Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach at a press conference in Berlin on Monday. 

He added that the continued obligation for people to isolate – rather than making it voluntarily – was because a Covid infection can trigger a life-threatening illness and is not just a flu or cold.

If someone with Covid is in close contact with another person, “then he de facto endangers their lives”, said Lauterbach.

Currently, in most German states people who receive a positive Covid test result have to isolate themselves for 10 days, with the chance to end it from the seventh day with a negative Covid test. 

The new recommendations come after the government and states thrashed out a plan to shorten the quarantine periods during a meeting last Thursday.

READ ALSO: Germany to shorten mandatory Covid isolation 

They are a “uniform minimum standard to guide the states” the Health Ministry said. 

However, some regions – including Bavaria – have already introduced the shortened Covid isolation period. 

Will people need a test to end the isolation?

No, people will not have to take a test to end the isolation period. But the Health Ministry and the RKI have issued an “urgent recommendation” where they call on people to carry out repeated self-testing starting from day five, and to only leave the isolation when they test negative. 

It is expected that when states amend their legislation, they will say that people need to be symptom-free for 48 hours before they can return to their normal lives. All of the states that have changed their rules so far have opted for this system.  

There are different guidelines for people who work in healthcare, old people’s homes, outpatient care and other similar facilities, according to the RKI and Health Ministry.

They follow the same rules as the general population but additionally, as a prerequisite for returning to their daily life from quarantine, they have to be free from symptoms for 48 hours with a negative test result on day five at the earliest. This test should be carried out at a testing centre or doctor’s surgery. 

Lauterbach reiterated during the press conference on Monday that he recommended everyone take a test after five days at the earliest.

What about contacts?

Vaccinated, recovered and boosted people, have not had to quarantine if they come into close contact with someone with Covid-19.

But now everyone – including the unvaccinated – will be exempt from a mandatory quarantine.

The RKI and the Health Ministry, however, have released an urgent recommendation that all contacts of someone with Covid, for instance after outbreaks in households, school or workplaces, “reduce contacts independently” especially when it comes to risk groups, and carry out daily testing to check on their infection status. 

What happens now?

States will be working to amend their laws so they can enforce the new recommendations. So keep an eye out on your local government in the coming days. 

As we’ve been reporting, some states have already shortened the Covid isolation period.

READ ALSO: The Covid rule changes in May across German states

Bavaria, which relaxed isolation rules in mid-April, said it did not support the recommendation for people to get tested. 

“We see the ‘test-to-release’ issue somewhat differently than the federal Health Minister,” Bavaria’s health minister Klaus Holetschek told the Rheinische Post.

Holetschek pointed out that in order to end isolation in the southern state, the person with Covid must be symptom-free 48 hours beforehand.

If not, the isolation has to continue for 48 hours at a time up to a maximum of 10 days. 

Bavaria also recommends that people continue to wear masks for a period afterwards.

Baden-Württemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate and Hesse, among others, are following this plan, Holetschek added. 

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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?