German politicians clash over Covid rules for autumn

Germany's Health Minister is keen to introduce more Covid regulations in autumn - but there's widespread disagreement over what the rules should be.

Germany Imbiss sign 3G rules
A sign informing customers to an Imbiss that 3G rules no longer apply. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Peter Kneffel

Negotiations are underway between Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) and Justice Minister Marco Buschmann (FDP) over the Covid rules for autumn – but there looks set to be disagreements over whether stricter measures should be included.

While the liberal FDP are keen to minimise restrictions, Lauterbach wants states to be able to introduce tougher rules if, for example, a new dangerous variant emerges or the situation on intensive care wards gets worse.

“We must also be prepared for very severe variants,” he said. “This has to be a comprehensive set of instruments, not a narrow-gauge issue.”

He said school closures and entry restrictions like 2G (vaccinated and recovered) and 3G (vaccinated, recovered and tested) should not be ruled out.

READ ALSO: School closures in Germany ‘cannot be ruled out’, says minister 

However, despite Lauterbach’s cautious approach, there seems to be a growing consensus that restrictions should be less invasive in autumn and winter than in previous years – for example, by dispensing with entry restrictions to public venues. 

Politicians from the SPD and opposition CDU/CSU have both said in recent days that the focus should be on testing for the virus regularly rather than on renewed access restrictions such as 2G, 3G and 2G-plus. 

In an interview with ARD on Sunday, Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) said that the drastic measures of previous pandemic years would likely not be necessary in 2022. 

But the chancellor said he could imagine mandatory testing and masks forming a larger part of the pandemic protection strategy.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz ARD summer interview

Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) speaks at an ARD summer interview on Sunday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christoph Soeder

“I believe that one must already assume that the mask will start playing a greater role in autumn and winter than it does now,” he said.

However, school closures shouldn’t be on the table, he said. “And I also don’t think we need lockdowns like we’ve had in recent years.”

The Greens’ health expert Janosch Dahmen has previously said that the 3G, 2G and 2G-plus rules should be available if indoor masks and the vaccination campaign fail to have the desire effect on hospitalisations and infection numbers.

“Should we find that despite masks indoors and booster vaccinations, the infection dynamic is again increasing strongly, it may be that once again one also needs effective hygiene concepts including access controls,” Danosch told Welt.

He said that people should still be tested regardless of their vaccination status. 

The government has recently ended rapid tests for all and introduced a new system where most people have to pay €3 per test. However, there are exceptions in place for certain at-risk groups and people attending large public events.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The new rules on getting a Covid test in Germany

Meanwhile the third and smallest partner in the governing traffic-light coalition, the FDP, continues to push for a pandemic management model based on individual responsibility rather than rules and regulations. 

“Personally, in the current phase of the pandemic, I would be in favour of clear and stringent recommendations instead of thoroughgoing legal obligations,” FDP health policy spokesman Andrew Ullmann told Welt. 

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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.”