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

Health Minster Karl Lauterbach (SPD) wants to give states the option of closing schools if a more dangerous variant of Covid emerges in autumn.

FPP2 masks German primary school
A Covid FPP2 mask hangs in the hallway of a German primary school. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Marijan Murat

The SPD politician said the controversial measure of shutting down schools couldn’t be ruled out as the government prepares for another major Covid wave in autumn.

“I think they (school closures) are very, very unlikely,” he said on ARD’s Anne Will talkshow on Sunday. “They would then be the very last resort. But I would be cautious about ruling them out because we don’t know which variants are coming.”

However, he said he no longer believed full-scale lockdowns to be necessary in the fight against the pandemic.

READ ALSO: How useful are Germany’s Covid restrictions?

“We simply have too good an immune status among the population for that,” he explained.

Lauterbach’s comments are likely to put him on a collision course with Justice Minister Marco Buschmann (FDP), who has recently ruled out the reintroduction of several Covid protection measures, including school closures. 

Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) also said on ARD on Sunday that “there should be no more school closures”.

The Federal Health Minister is currently negotiating with Buschmann on amendments to the Infection Protection Act, which provides the legal basis for Covid measures like masks and testing. 

At the moment, the legislation provides states with very limited powers to bring in new Covid rules: since April, they have been largely restricted to masks on public transport and testing in clinics. However, the current version of the Act expires on September 23rd. 

With fears of a renewed sharp rise in infections – and possible new variants that could cause more severe illness – the Health Ministry wants to amend the Infection Protection Act to give states more powers to introduce rules such as mandatory testing and indoor masks in autumn. 

Lauterbach said the planned measures should give state governments the tools they need to cover different scenarios that could happen. “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.”

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The Covid rules in place across German states

Member comments

  1. Very, very unlikely? When karl lauterbach says those words you know he’s salivating at the chance to shut schools again. They won’t categorically rule anything out despite that group of “experts “saying that they can’t say anything worked because they have insufficient data. They are changing what it means to be vaccinated. Almost feels like a backdoor lockdown is well on its way.

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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.”