Coronavirus: Brothels set to reopen in northern Germany with strict rules

Brothels were closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, a court has ruled that they can reopen again in North Rhine-Westphalia, with other northern states set to follow.

Coronavirus: Brothels set to reopen in northern Germany with strict rules
Sex workers Thomas and Nicole demonstrating how sex work could look during a pandemic. They called for the reopening of brothels in Düsseldorf on August 27th. Photo: DPA

Prostitutes can return to work in Germany's most populous state of North Rhine-Westphalia with immediate effect.

Meanwhile, four north German states will also lift their bans shortly. Brothels in Hamburg, Bremen, Lower Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein can resume operations as of September 15th.

The ban on prostitution issued in the wake of the coronavirus crisis was overturned on Tuesday, after a ruling by the North Rhine-Westphalia Higher Administrative Court in Münster.

Many sex workers have suffered a huge loss of income due to the ban. The precarious financial situation of the industry as a whole became apparent last week when one of Europe's biggest brothels Pascha, in Cologne, filed for bankruptcy.

There have been several protests throughout the country as sex workers have called for brothels to open their doors.

SEE ALSO: Sex workers protest in Berlin as coronavirus keeps brothels shut

Face mask rules and ban on alcohol

Strict rules will have to be put in place in order for the facilities to reopen.

Brothels have to present authorities with a hygiene and safety concept, face masks must be worn at all times and there's a ban on alcohol.

The practice of prostitution in vehicles and at events remains prohibited.

The court in Münster said that a complete ban violated the principle of proportionality and it had to be overturned.

They said the danger of passing on the virus in a brothel likely also existed in other contexts that have already been allowed by governments.

As an example, the court cited fitness studios which are allowed to open and also involve increased breathing activity.

It's also not clear proven that the risk of infection is significantly higher during sexual acts between two people than at private parties with up to 150 people, the court said.

With sexual services risks can therefore be reduced with protective measures. According to the court, the ban on sexual services must be suspended in its entirety for the time being, and the decision cannot be appealed.

In Berlin, sex work was partially permitted again in August. And since September 1st, sexual services involving physical contact has also been allowed. In other states, brothels are still closed.

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Mandatory contact tracing in Zurich brothels stirs controversy

A lawyer for the Zurich sex industry is taking legal action against new tracing rules being implemented for prostitutes working in the Swiss canton.

Mandatory contact tracing in Zurich brothels stirs controversy
A prostitute walks by 'sex boxes' which Zurich set for their safety. Photo by AFP

Starting on October 1st, Zurich has mandated stricter protection rules in the brothels.

Sex workers must now not only collect their customers’ ID and contact details, but also check on the spot whether the cell phone numbers provided by the clients are correct.

But Valentin Landmann, a legal counsel for Zurich’s sex work industry, filed an appeal against the new regulations, claiming they “violate the principle of equality”.

“These conditions are more extreme than in any other profession involving physical contact”, he told SRF television in an interview.

Landmann added that stricter measures are not necessary in the sex trade.

“The normal protection concepts are already being observed. So far, there have been no coronavirus cases in legal companies”.

However, Zurich authorities see it differently.

The cantonal director of security Mario Fehr told SRF that the new measures are necessary to ensure effective contact tracing, so that clients can be informed in case a coronavirus infection occurs in the brothel.

He added that if establishments fail to adhere to the requirements “we will close these businesses”.

READ MORE: Five things about Switzerland that may surprise foreign residents 

Prostitution is legal in Switzerland and considered as a ‘regular’ service industry, with the same rights and obligations as other sectors, including declaring income and paying taxes.

In May, the brothels implemented safety rules for workers and clients to reduce the risk of Covid-19 infections. 

The measures include ventilation in rooms, the use of gloves, condoms and disinfectants, and washing of sheets after each client. 

Also, sessions should be kept to a maximum of 15 minutes, and kissing – which was already rare before the measures came into place – is strongly discouraged.