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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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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.