German states seek powers to enforce tougher Covid rules in autumn

Some German states are piling pressure on the government to make sure that infection laws are amended now to enable tougher measures in autumn amid rocketing Covid infections.

A sign telling customers to wear an FFP2 mask at a shop in Hamburg in April.
A sign telling customers to wear an FFP2 mask at a shop in Hamburg in April. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jonas Walzberg

On Monday, Germany saw 123,097 infections within the latest 24 hour period and 182 deaths, while the 7-day incidence rose to 458.5 infections per 100,000 people. 

As fears grow over the spread of Covid, four states – Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, Hesse and North Rhine-Westphalia – are urging the federal government to create the legal conditions that would enable restrictions after summer. 

The Infection Protection Act, which allows for measures like mandatory masks on public transport, is due to expire on September 23rd.

The coalition government – made up of the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Free Democrats (FDP) – should present an amendment to the law before the summer break, according to a draft resolution by the four states ahead of a health ministers meeting this week.

This is needed so authorities can react with restrictions against an increase in infections in autumn, the draft said.

The proposal from the states outlined possible measures including “mandatory masks indoors, 3G/2G access rules, testing obligations, upper limits for persons and contact restrictions”.

Germany had a series of tough measures during the autumn and winter of 2021/22, including the 3G rule, which meant people had to show proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative test to enter a public venue like a restaurant. The 2G rule excluded unvaccinated people from entry to many places, while 2G-plus meant that vaccinated people needed to show a negative test unless they were boosted. 

The three CDU/CSU-led states and the Green/CDU governed state of Baden-Württemberg also insist that they be included in the deliberations on the law. 

READ ALSO: German cities call for ‘quick decisions’ on Covid measures for summer

The health ministers of the four states also demand that the Corona Test Ordinance be extended “appropriately” beyond the end of June.

“There is a need for continued free and unbureaucratic testing opportunities, especially to ensure protection around facilities for vulnerable persons and groups,” said the proposal.

The government is considering ending free Covid tests from July onwards. 

READ ALSO: Will Germany keep free Covid tests after June?

Ahead of the health ministers’ conference in Magdeburg starting on Wednesday, the states are also pushing for clarification on whether there should be a general recommendation for a fourth vaccination for everyone in Germany. 

The Standing Commission on Vaccination (STIKO) has so far only recommended a second booster shot for people over the age of 70.

The government should also plan together with the states on how jabs should be given out in autumn and winter, said the states. 

Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, Hesse and North Rhine-Westphalia also call on the federal government to equip hospitals for the expected next wave.

There should be financial incentives, for instance, to retain staff and recruit new ones. “There must also be a renewed prospect of financial security for hospitals through federal rescue funds, should the supply situation in hospitals come to a head again,” said the proposal.

German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) has said that his department is already working on a strategy for autumn that will include changes to the infection protection laws.

READ ALSO: How Germany is preparing for a post-summer Covid wave

“We must not go into the crisis unprepared again like last autumn,” Lauterbach told the Bundestag earlier in June. “We must be well prepared.”

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Bavaria pushes for stricter Covid regulations in autumn

Health ministers across Germany's 16 states are debating the government's new Covid plan - and politicians in Bavaria say they want more clarity.

Bavaria pushes for stricter Covid regulations in autumn

On Tuesday, federal and state health ministers planned to discuss the Covid protection proposals for autumn and winter presented last week by Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) and Justice Minister Marco Buschmann (FDP).

However, some states and politicians are not satisfied with the plans. 

Under the proposals, masks will remain mandatory in air and long-distance transport, as well as clinics, nationwide. But federal states will be able to choose themselves whether to introduce further measures like mandatory masks on public and regional transport.

States will also have the power to take tougher Covid measures if the situation calls for it, such as mandatory masks indoors, but lockdowns and school closures have been ruled out. 

READ ALSO Masks and no lockdowns: Germany’s new Covid plan from autumn to Easter

The draft law states that there can be exceptions from wearing masks in indoor spaces, such as restaurants, for recently Covid-vaccinated or recovered people. 

But Bavaria’s health minister Klaus Holetschek (CSU) told DPA that these planned exemptions were not justified because vaccinated and recovered people can still transmit infections. “There are clear gaps in the current draft law,” said the CSU politician.

Dominik Spitzer, health policy spokesman for the FDP parliamentary group in the Bavarian state parliament, also questioned this exception, saying the rules “simply made no sense”.

“With the current virus variant, that would be impossible to convey, since even vaccinated people can continue to carry the virus,” the FDP politician told Bavarian broadcaster BR24. 

The coalition government’s graduated plan under the new Infection Protection Act, is set to be in force from October 1st until April 7th next year. 

The powers for the states are a first step, “but they do not go far enough for us”, Holetschek added, while calling for some points to be tightened up. “We need strong guidelines for autumn and winter.”

Holetschek said the government needed to tighten up the criteria with which states can adopt and enforce more effective measures to protect against the spread of Covid-19.

READ ALSO: Could Germany see a ‘patchwork’ of Covid rules?

Meanwhile, CDU health politician Erwin Rüddel said Germany was on the “wrong track” and the country should find “a completely different approach” to Covid policy than it has so far.

He accused the coalition government of being in “panic mode” and said he doubted the Bundestag would pass the proposals.

“I believe, there will be significant changes (to the draft)”, he said.

But the chairperson of the doctors’ association Marburger Bund, Susanne Johna, backed the plans.

“The proposal for the new Infection Protection Act gives the states sufficient possibilities to react adequately to the infection situation,” Johna told the Rheinische Post on Tuesday.

“The states can take regionally adapted measures to protect people if the need arises. I can’t understand why this concept is being called into question right away.”