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

Germany is preparing for the colder months with a new set of Covid regulations. Here's what you need to know about the rules - and changes.

Passengers wear masks in Potsdam. Germany is preparing for autumn with Covid regulations.
Passengers wear masks in Potsdam. Germany is preparing for autumn with Covid regulations. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Monika Skolimowska

What’s happening?

Germany has agreed on amending the Infection Protection Act which forms the legal basis for any Covid-19 measures. 

The plan includes some measures that will apply nationwide, while the states can also decide on regional requirements depending on the pandemic situation.

On Friday September 16th, the Bundesrat, which represents the states, gave its approval. 

With the fresh set of rules, the coalition, made up of the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and the Free Democrats (FDP), is trying to prepare Germany for pandemic developments during autumn and winter. The new legal framework will apply from October 1st to April 7th 2023. 

READ ALSO: Germany to bring in new Covid rules ahead of ‘difficult winter’

Here are some of the changes at a glance:

Mandatory masks on long-distance trains

People travelling on long-distance trains in Germany will still have to wear an FFP2 mask if they are over the age of 14. For children between the ages of six and 13, a surgical mask is sufficient. 

READ ALSO: Germany to enforce new Covid rules from October 1st

No mask mandate on planes

At the moment, people on flights to and from Germany, as well as domestic flights, still have to wear a face mask, but this will no longer be a requirement from October 1st under the new rules. The German government can, however, reintroduce mandatory masks on aeroplanes by decree if it deems it necessary in light of rising case numbers.

A Lufthansa airplane at Frankfurt airport.

A Lufthansa airplane at Frankfurt airport. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Boris Roessler

It comes after outrage was sparked when ministers – including Chancellor Olaf Scholz – were seen without masks on a government trip to Canada recently.

READ ALSO: ‘Double standards’: Why top German ministers are embroiled in a Covid row

Mask and test rule in hospitals and nursing homes

A tightening of the rules affects hospitals, clinics and nursing homes. In these settings, people have to wear an FFP2 mask and show a negative Covid-19 test result. 

In order to strengthen the protection of those in need of care who are particularly at risk, nursing homes have to appoint representatives who will take care of vaccinations, hygiene and any other treatment for those who fall ill, for example with the drug Paxlovid.

Masks when visiting doctor

FFP2 masks are now also a requirement in doctors’ offices and other outpatient medical facilities. Previously, this could be regulated by the states, but now the federal government will regulate this uniformly.

State rules for local transport, schools and public spaces

In some areas, the government is not putting in place nationwide measures. Instead, German states will be able to bring in tighter regulations by decree. These include making masks mandatory on local public transport. It is expected that the mask mandate will remain in public transport, after a meeting from the state health ministers.

States can also choose to bring in compulsory masks in other publicly accessible indoor spaces such as restaurants or shops. This will depend on the Covid situation. 

Exceptions to mandatory mask orders issued by the states

Exceptions to having to wear a mask apply will apply in certain areas. For instance, at recreational, cultural, and sporting events, as well as in the food service industry, a mask does not have to be worn by anyone who can present a current negative test. Furthermore, anyone who has recently recovered or received a Covid vaccination no more than three months ago can be exempt from the mask requirement. However, the states can decide for themselves whether they want to allow these exemptions to apply.

A sign urging people to wear masks in Munich.

A sign urging people to wear masks in Munich. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Peter Kneffel

READ ALSO: OPINION – Germany’s autumn Covid rules are a giant mess beyond parody 

Possible masks and tests in schools

When it comes to schools, masks can be made compulsory for students from the 5th grade onwards. States can decide if regular testing is needed at schools and in daycare (Kitas). States may also mandate mandatory testing in other community settings – such as asylum seeker shelters.

Meanwhile, if a school pupil is suspected of having a Covid infection, a medical certificate will not have to be submitted to enable the child to attend school again unlike previously envisaged. This was scrapped from the final version of the plans. 

If parents have to stay at home due to a child’s illness, those with statutory health insurance will continue to receive additional sick days for kids until the end of 2023. Each parent receives 30 working days per child. Single parents will receive 60 working days. The number of days have been extended during the pandemic. 

Tougher measures can be implemented by state parliaments

If approved by state parliaments, then regions in Germany can bring in additional, tougher measures. This would be the case if they see a danger to the functioning of critical infrastructure, such as healthcare, energy supply or emergency services. For instance, if too many people are off sick at the same time or have to quarantine, this can cause major problems.

In this instance, states can order mandatory masks in outdoor areas if a minimum distance of 1.5 meters cannot be maintained. In addition, upper limits for visitors at indoor events are possible.

The exceptions for Covid-vaccinated, recently recovered and tested people would then no longer apply. However, lockdowns, business and school closures are not envisaged – even in a critical situation. 

Note that at this stage, these measures have to be voted in by regional parliaments, not by decree.

What else should I know?

Germany’s current Infection Protection Act runs out on September 23rd. That leaves a space between this date and October 1st where there would apparently be no legal basis for any Covid rules.

We asked the German Health Ministry what happens during this short period. A spokesman told us that the current laws “will be extended” until October 1st. So things will remain as they are until the start of October. 

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Germany to bring in new Covid rules ahead of ‘difficult’ winter

With infection numbers shooting up once again in Germany, states are set to bring in a new set of Covid measures on October 1st.

Germany to bring in new Covid rules ahead of 'difficult' winter

From Saturday, masks will no longer be required on commercial flights, though people will still be expected to wear an FFP2 mask on long-distance trains.

States will also be given the option to introduce mandatory masks in other public indoor spaces, including on local public transport and in schools. If they choose to bring in masks, they’ll also have the freedom to introduce exceptions to masks for people who are recently vaccinated or who have tested negative for Covid.

States will also be able to introduce compulsory testing in schools and nurseries.

READ ALSO: German states likely to keep mask mandate on public transport

Speaking at a press conference alongside Robert Koch Institute (RKI) chair Lothar Wieler on Friday, German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach defended the decision to keep Covid rules in place when other countries in Europe have largely got rid of their pandemic measures. 

“It’s not for me to criticise what other countries are doing,” said Lauterbach. “We have a particularly difficult winter ahead of us due to the energy crisis, we don’t want to make it worse through the Covid crisis.”

The SPD politician also defended plans for mandatory masks for residents and staff in nursing and care homes. Having 40 or 50 vulnerable people together in an enclosed space is “extremely high-risk”, he said. 

Under the new rules set to be introduced on Saturday, residents of care homes will be expected to wear FPP2 masks in all common areas of the home, and will only be able to take them off in their bedrooms.

“For people in nursing homes, the FFP2 mask requirement means a considerable cut in their quality of life,” Regina Görner, chairwoman of the Federal Association of Senior Citizens’ Organisations (Bagso), told DPA:

“The nursing home is their home, in which they can then no longer move freely without a mask.”

Visitors to nursing homes, meanwhile, will have to supply a negative Covid test, while staff will be tested three times a week. 

Under the autumn and winter rules, people across Germany will also be required to wear an FFP2 mask at their doctor’s surgery and in medical outpatient facilities such as hospitals.

“We’re better prepared than last autumn,” Lauterbach told reporters on Friday. “We have the infection numbers under control, we have this wave under control.” 

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS – Germany’s new Covid-19 rules for autumn

Steep rise in cases

As the weather turns colder, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) has reported a steep rise in respiratory infections, including Covid-19.

Last week, the number of Covid patients jumped dramatically from 500,000 to 1.2 million per week, with cases rising significantly in every age group.

Meanwhile, the 7-day incidence of Covid infections per 100,000 people shot up from 409 on Thursday to 466 on Friday. The previous week, the weekly incidence stood at 294 per 100,000 people. 

The numbers are believed to be partially inflated by the ongoing Oktoberfest beer festival, which is being held for the first time since the pandemic started. In Munich, the location of the festival, the weekly incidence is almost 800. 

Speaking at the press conference in Berlin on Friday, RKI chair Wieler warned people not to get complacent about the threat of infection.

“A mild course of illness simply means not ending up in hospital,” he said. “We should be conscious of how much risk we want take on, and how much risk we can avoid.”

RKI chief Lothar Wieler

Robert Koch Institute chair Lothar Wieler (l) and Heath Minister Karl Lauterbach (r) hold a press conference in Berlin on Friday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Wolfgang Kumm

Despite the looming energy crisis, the RKI boss advised the public to ensure that rooms were well ventilated, adding that spaces normally occupied by a large number of people should be aired out more regularly.

He also advised people with Covid symptoms to stay home until they felt better in order to avoid passing on any infections, and warned that people should be especially careful to avoid contact with vulnerable people.

“Just like before, these people need our solidarity,” he said. 

Self-isolation and quarantine rules vary from state to state, but people who test positive for Covid generally have to isolate for a minimum of five days and a maximum of 10.

In some cases, people can take an additional Covid test in order to end their isolation early.

The RKI has also recommended that people wear a mask in public enclosed spaces. 

READ ALSO: What will the Covid situation in Germany look like this autumn?