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COVID-19 RULES

Could Germany see a ‘patchwork’ of rules with new Covid plan?

Germany has put together a plan to tackle the spread of Covid from October until spring next year. But while some proposals have been welcomed, there are fears it could result in a patchwork of rules around the country.

A passenger stands in Stuttgart with a face mask.
A passenger stands in Stuttgart with a face mask. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bernd Weißbrod

Masks will remain mandatory in some places, but states will have the power to take tougher Covid measures, under proposals from the German Health and Justice Ministries for getting through the autumn and winter.

On Wednesday, the coalition pledged a graduated plan under the new Infection Protection Act, which will be in force from October 1st until April 7th next year. 

It envisages mandatory masks 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, like buses and trams. 

Under the plans, there is also the option of making restrictions even tougher if the situation becomes critical. 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 proposals have been met with a divided response so far, with experts calling for more clarity. 

The German Medical Association called for uniform measures throughout the country if hospitals or critical services get overloaded, rather than different regulations in states. 

“It’s important that in future, uniform measures are taken throughout Germany if certain clearly defined criteria are met,” Klaus Reinhardt, President of the Medical Association, told the Funke Mediengruppe on Thursday.

He said the plans for autumn and winter “unfortunately still remain vague”.

The German Hospital Association said it wasn’t clear when the health system would be classed as being overburdened.

“It’s not apparent how the data situation will be seriously improved,” said the chairman of the board, Gerald Gaß.

However, Reinhardt said he was pleased that the plans had “finally been formulated with consideration for our children”.

The German Teachers’ Association said it was important that states would be able to impose mandatory masks on older pupils if they need to, but questioned why masks couldn’t also be introduced in younger children.

Under the proposals, only pupils from the fifth school year onwards can be asked to wear a mask if the Covid situation worsens.

Teachers’ representatives also raised concerns about Germany turning into a “patchwork quilt” due to regions being able to take different measures.

Meanwhile, the German Association of Cities said there were still a lot of unanswered questions, including whether free Covid tests would return. The government recently restricted free Covid testing because they said it was too expensive. 

“Will the free Bürgertests for all be introduced again in autumn? What will happen with the facility-based compulsory vaccination? We expect answers from the federal government on this very soon,” said chief executive Helmut Dedy.

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COVID-19 RULES

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.”

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