German opposition leader calls for official end to pandemic next year

Christian Democrat leader Friedrich Merz says Germany should dispense with its remaining Covid rules by spring.

Potsdam city centre
Pedestrians in the centre of Potsdam, Brandenburg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Fabian Sommer

Speaking to the Funke Media Group on Thursday, Merz said the goal should be for society to return to normality after more than two years of pandemic restrictions. 

“The time of high infection risk and severe disease progression is over,” he said. “With that, we should also try to return to a largely normal life as quickly as possible – including with corona.”

The CDU leader criticised the “almost siren-like alarmism” of Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD), who has been in charge of setting Covid rules since the traffic-light coalition – made up of the Social Democrats, Greens and Free Democrats – entered government last year.

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

“We should return to normality and officially declare corona ended by spring next year at the latest,” he added.

On Thursday, the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein became the latest federal state to end mandatory isolation for people who test positive for Covid.

Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg had taken the same step on Wednesday, with compulsory masks and entry bans for nursing and care facilities taking the place of self-isolation rules.

Baden-Württemberg Health Minister Manne Lucha (Greens) has also advised people who test positive for Covid to avoid coming into their place of work while still infectious.

CDU leader Friedrich Merz

CDU leader Friedrich Merz speaks at the CSU party conference in Augsburg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Karl-Josef Hildenbrand

“Basically, if you are sick and have symptoms, you should also stay at home and take sick leave, just as before,” she said.

Alongside Schleswig-Holstein, Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg, the central state of Hesse also plans to end mandatory isolation for Covid patients, though the health ministry has not yet set a date for changing the rules. 

Speaking to the Funke Media Group, Merz welcomed the news that the four states were relaxing their isolation restrictions, adding that Covid measures were only now needed “to a very limited extent” in Germany. 

“When I first read the news, I felt a certain unease,” he said. “On further reflection, however, it seems to me to be responsible to proceed as Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg, Hesse and Schleswig-Holstein are now doing.”

READ ALSO: Two German states stop enforcing mandatory Covid-19 isolation

But the decision of the four states to end their isolation requirements has been met with alarm by trade union representatives, who said they were “shocked” by the move. 

Anja Piel, an executive member of the Deutsche Gewerkschaftsbund (DGB), said workers should continue to call in sick to work after testing positive for Covid-19 and should also voluntarily reduce their social contacts. 

In the medical community, doctors also spoke out against the emergency of a so-called “patchwork” of Covid rules, with different measures applying in different states.

“All this suggests that politicians should now think about an orderly and uniform transition towards treating Covid like other endemic diseases, even if the World Heath Organisation has not yet declared the pandemic over worldwide,” Andreas Gassen, head of the SHI physicians’ organisation, told RND. 

Paired-back measures 

Since October 1st this year, a new, stripped-back version of the Infection Protection Act has been in force in Germany. 

This mandates that masks are worn in health and care facilities and on long-distance public transport, but gives the federal states freedom to extend masks to local transport and other public venues as required. 

Currently, each of the 16 federal states have some sort of mask-wearing requirement on local transport, but Schleswig-Holstein recently announced that it would be scrapping the measure at the end of the year. 

The current legal framework for Covid-19 rules is set to expire on April 7th next year.

Whether or not to extend pandemic measures beyond this date is likely to be the subject of fierce debate. 

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

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German parliament to hold urgent debate on citizenship

Politicians will gather in the Bundestag on Thursday afternoon for an urgent session on Germany's planned changes to citizenship law.

German parliament to hold urgent debate on citizenship

According to information on the Bundestag website, the urgent discussion was scheduled on the request of the opposition CDU party, who have been fiercely critical of the planned reforms in recent days.

The debate, which is scheduled to start at 2:50pm and last an hour, will see MPs air their views on the government’s planned changes to citizenship law.

Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD) is currently in the process of drafting a bill that will simplify and speed up the naturalisation process in Germany, which she said this week is “as good as done”.  

The law will end a ban on dual nationality for non-EU citizens, meaning people from places like India, the USA and the UK can naturalise as Germans without losing their current citizenship – or citizenships. 

It also foresees a dramatic reduction in the amount of time it takes to become eligible for German citizenship.

In future, people would be able to naturalise after five years of residence in the country rather than the current eight, while people who speak good German or fulfil other integration criteria could naturalise after three years rather than six.

Additionally, the Interior Ministry wants to grant automatic German citizenship to the children of foreign parents – provided their parents have been in the country at least five years – and remove language requirements for members of the guest-worker generation who want to become German. 


‘We don’t need reform’

High-profile politicians from the CDU have slammed the government’s plans to ease citizenship rules, with parliamentary leader Thorsten Frei describing the move as an attempt to “sell-off” German passports as a “junk commodity”.

“We don’t need reform,” Frei told public broadcaster ZDF. “There would no majority whatsoever in any party’s supporters for this change.”

Earlier this week, CDU leader Friedrich Merz had argued that expediting the naturalisation process would damage integration and allow people to immigrate into the benefits system more easily. 

“The CDU will not close its mind to a further modernisation of immigration law and the citizenship law of the Federal Republic of Germany,” Merz told a meeting of CDU and CSU MPs in Berlin on Tuesday.

“However, we also attach importance to the fact that the granting of citizenship takes place at the end of an integration process and not at the beginning of it.” 

The CDU and CSU have previously been vocal opponents of permitting dual nationality, arguing that holding more than one citizenship would prevent people from fully integrating into German life. 

Nevertheless, it remains unclear if the opposition will be able to block the legislation in any meaningful way.

If there aren’t any substantial changes to the core of the citizenship bill when the amendments are made, the Interior Ministry believes it won’t need to be put to a vote in the Bundesrat – the upper house where the CDU and CSU hold a majority.

Instead, the parties of the traffic-light coalition – the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Free Democrats (FDP) – would simply be able to vote it through in the Bundestag. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Could Germany’s conservatives block dual citizenship?