Covid lockdowns in Germany shouldn’t be ruled out, says expert

German medical experts, scientists and industry bosses are looking ahead to autumn when the government will introduce new Covid laws. Many are wondering if lockdowns or contact restrictions will be on the table again.

A medical mask lies on the ground of an U-Bahn station in Hamburg.
A medical mask lies on the ground of an U-Bahn station in Hamburg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Marcus Brandt

The current Covid infection protection laws expire on September 23rd. The German government plans to extend them – but it’s still not clear what they will contain. 

According to the German president of the World Medical Association, Frank Ulrich Montgomery, infection laws should allow for far-reaching measures to protect people against Covid.

“Anyone who categorically rules out measures such as contact restrictions or lockdowns from the outset has neither understood the meaning of the law nor grasped the seriousness of the situation,” Montgomery told the newspapers of the Funke Mediengruppe on Wednesday.

“An infection protection law should open up opportunities (for measures) and save lives.”

Montgomery said the laws must contain a “toolbox” that politicians can draw from when the situation requires it.

“Whether the instruments are used later depends on the respective assessment of the situation,” he said. “But the fact that they are needed should be indisputable.”

Epidemiologist Hajo Zeeb, of the Leibnitz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology, told Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland that tough restrictions depended on the infection situation.

“We only have to talk about a lockdown if new dangerous variants appear,” he said. Otherwise “such radical measures” are not needed for autumn and winter.

READ ALSO: Masks and tests – The Covid rules that tourists in Germany should know

Back in spring, mainly at the insistence of the liberal Free Democrats, who are part of the ruling coalition along with the Social Democrats and the Greens, Covid provisions in the Infection Protection Act were significantly relaxed.

They form the legal basis for measures in the states, and define possible instruments that politicians can use to control the pandemic. At the moment, only basic measures are in force across Germany, including mandatory masks on public transport.

The coalition is currently discussing future regulations. 

KEY POINTS: Germany Health Ministry lays out autumn Covid plan

Operators of clubs, which have been hit hard in the past years, are following the current debate “with the greatest concern”, said the General Manager of the German Hotel and Restaurant Association (Dehoga), Ingrid Hartges.

She warned that measures such as mandatory masks or rapid testing for vaccinated and unvaccinated people at major events should only be introduced if they are needed to contain the pandemic. “The decisive factor must be how dangerous a virus variant is and how high the hospitalisation rate is,” Hartges said.

Meanwhile, Munich-based expert Clemens Wendtner called for the possibility of prescribing the Covid-19 drug Paxlovid to at-risk groups as a precaution in view of the current relatively high infection figures.

It’s crucial to take Paxlovid early, said the head physician of infectious diseases at the Munich Clinic Schwabing.

“I am therefore of the opinion that people who belong to a vulnerable group should have the drug in their cupboard at home,” he said.

On Wednesday the incidence stood at 740.1 Covid infections per 100,000 people in seven days. There were 140,999 Covid infections reported in the latest 24 hour period and 136 deaths. 

Member comments

  1. Lockdowns should absolutely be ruled out. They don’t work, they haven’t worked and they won’t work next time.

    There is no evidence they work. None. The only evidence is from “experts” who just say it works and provide no evidence that lockdowns do anything. Weve reached a plateau in case numbers this summer without lockdowns. All for something with a 99.9% survival rate.

    If you want a lockdown, go to china. They lockdown hard over there.
    (So I’ve heard and the videos of zero covid. Lauterbach’s wet dream.)

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Bavaria signals end to compulsory masks on public transport

Bavaria's state premier Markus Söder (CSU) has announced plans for a "prompt" end to mandatory masks on buses and trains.

Bavaria signals end to compulsory masks on public transport

If infection levels and hospitalisations remain low, the end of the mask-wearing rule could come as soon as December or January.

“We are convinced that the mask requirement in public transport could also be phased out either in mid-December or early next year, if the numbers remain reasonably stable and there are no new mutations,” Söder explained on Monday, following a meeting with the CSU executive committee. 

A decision on when to end the measure would be made “promptly”, he added.

The CSU politician had said last week that the sinking infection rates meant that compulsory masks were no longer appropriate and that the mandate could be changed to a recommendation. 

No set date for change

The latest version of Bavaria’s Infection Protection Act – which lays out an obligation to wear masks on public transport as one of the few remaining Covid rules – is currently due to expire on December 9th.

State ministers could decide whether to let obligatory masks on buses and trains lapse on this date as early as next week, or they could decide to initially extend the legislation and set an alternative date for ending the rule.

Regardless of their decision, FFP2 masks will continue to be mandatory on long-distance public transport until at least April next year, when the nationwide Infection Protection Act is due to expire.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Germany’s new Covid-19 rules from October

Speaking to Süddeutsche Zeitung on Monday after the meeting of the Council of Ministers, Florian Herrmann (CSU), head of the State Chancellery, confirmed that Covid-19 had been discussed in passing.

However, no decisions or discussions were made on how to proceed after the expiry of the regulation, he said.

According to Herrmann, the fact that Covid was no longer the “dominant topic” in the cabinet under “enormous tension” shows “that we are returning to normality” in a gradual transition from pandemic to endemic. 

As of Wednesday, the 7-day incidence of Covid infections per 100,000 people stood at 108 in Bavaria, down from 111 the previous day. However, experts have cast doubt on how meaningful the incidence is in light of the fact that fewer people are taking tests.

Nevertheless, the 133 hospital beds occupied by Covid patients in the Free State falls well below the 600 threshold for a ‘red alert’. With Omicron causing less severe courses of illness than previous variants, politicians have increasingly focussed on hospitalisation statistics to gauge the severity of the situation.

‘A risk-benefit trade-off’

Bavaria is the second federal state to announce plans to relax its mask-wearing rules in recent weeks.

On November 14th, the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein announced that it would be ending obligatory FFP2 masks on public transport and urged other states to do the same. From January 2023, masks on public transport will only be recommended rather than mandated for passengers on local buses and trains. 

However, the Federal Ministry of Health has urged states not to loosen their rules too quickly.

Given that infection rates are likely to spike again in winter, “there’s no basis for loosening restrictions”, said Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD).

Physicians are also split on whether an end to masks on public transport is appropriate.

READ ALSO: Will Germany get rid of masks on public transport?

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) speaks at the German Hospital Day in Düsseldorf on November 14th. Lauterbach is against the lifting of the mask-wearing rule. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Roberto Pfeil

Christoph Spinner, a virologist at the University Hospital in Munich, told Süddeutsche Zeitung he believed it was time to put the decision on mask-wearing back into the hands of individuals.

“Why not? The incidences are low, the danger of Covid-19 has dropped significantly and mortality has also decreased,” he said. 

But the Bavarian General Practitioners’ Association spoke out against the move, arguing that – unlike a trip to a restaurant or cinema – people often have no choice but to travel on public transport.

“If the obligation to wear a mask in public transport is maintained, this will help to protect against a Covid infection on the way to work by bus or train – especially in view of the discontinuation of the obligation to isolate in the event of a Covid infection,” they explained.

Bavaria is one of four states to have recently ended mandatory isolation for people who test positive for Covid. Baden-Württemberg and Schleswig-Holstein both scrapped their isolation mandate last week, while Hesse removed its obligation on Tuesday. 

READ ALSO: Four German states call for end to mandatory Covid isolation