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COVID-19 RULES

German health experts fear new Covid measures won’t break fourth wave

German leaders agreed on a raft of new measures that mainly target unvaccinated people - but there are already concerns that the curbs will not be enough to take the pressure off hospitals.

A sign on a Hamburg bar saying it is 2G plus (entry onto the vaccinated or recovered with a negative test).
A sign on a Hamburg bar saying it is 2G plus (entry onto the vaccinated or recovered with a negative test). Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Marcus Brandt

Outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel, incoming Chancellor Olaf Scholz, and the 16 state leaders, decided on Thursday to expand the so-called 2G rule nationwide. It means unvaccinated people will be barred from leisure and cultural facilities, as well as non-essential shops. 

There are also contact restrictions for the unvaccinated, and clubs will have to close in badly-affected Covid areas. States can also choose to close more of public life if they think it is needed.

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In the last weeks, the German government has also introduced 3G rules in the workplace and on public transport (meaning people have to be vaccinated, recovered or show a negative test), while some regions like Saxony and Bavaria, have shut much of public life. 

The Bundestag will also vote on a vaccine mandate for people in Germany which could come into force in February 2022. 

But there are fears that these measures will not break the fourth wave quickly enough, causing more pressure for already packed intensive care units. 

Gernot Marx, the president of the intensive care association DIVI, pleaded for tougher contact bans for all.

“We need clear contact restrictions,” he told the Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland, adding that it would be best if everyone was ordered to reduce contacts, including vaccinated people.

He said that not enough is known about the effects of the new virus variant of concern, dubbed Omicron. “We cannot exclude the possibility that the vaccines have a reduced effect,” he said. “Because of this lack of knowledge, it is vital to be especially careful.”

Virologist and member of the Standing Commission on Vaccination (STIKO) Klaus Überla had similar views.

“It is a mistake to rule out contact restrictions for vaccinated people,” he said, adding that “the vaccinated play a considerable role in the spread of the virus”.

President of the German Medical Association Klaus Reinhardt told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung that the new rules aren’t tough enough.

“In order to protect the health system from overload, even more far-reaching measures would be necessary in our view,” he said.

He suggested that 2G plus rule (where vaccinated and recovered people have to show a negative Covid test) should be implemented nationwide in bars, restaurants as well as for indoor sports and cultural events.

On Friday, Germany reported 74,352 Covid infections within 24 hours, and 390 Covid-related deaths. The 7-day incidence climbed to 442.1 infections per 100,000 people after a period of stagnation. 

Others said the decisions by the government and states were welcome. 

“The catalogue of measures comes late, but better late than not at all”, Gerd Landsberg, chief executive of the Association of Towns and Municipalities, told the Rheinische Post.

Yet epidemiologist Hajo Zeeb of the Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology in Bremen, said some of the restrictions would be difficult to implement.

“It is questionable how the contact restrictions for unvaccinated people can be enforced and controlled.” He said. He added that Germany is still not out of the woods: “With the resolutions, we will still have an increase in clinics and intensive care units for about three to four weeks.”

Zeeb also said the incidence was expected to rise for some time. “The wave is not going to stop anytime soon,” he said.

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COVID-19 RULES

End of the pandemic? What the expiry of Sweden’s Covid laws really means

With the expiry of Sweden's two temporary Covid-19 laws, the downgrading of the virus's threat classification, and the end of the last travel restrictions, April, officially at least, marks the end of the pandemic. We explain what it means.

End of the pandemic? What the expiry of Sweden's Covid laws really means

What are the two laws which expire on April 1st? 

Sweden’s parliament voted last week to let the two temporary laws put in place to battle the Covid-19 pandemic expire on April 1st.

The first law is the so-called Covid-19 law, or “the law on special restrictions to limit the spread of the Covid-19 illness”, which was used during the pandemic to temporarily empower the authorities to limit the number of visitors to shops, gyms, and sports facilities. It also gave the government power to limit the number of people who could gather in public places like parks and beaches. 

The second law was the “law on temporary restrictions at serving places”. This gave the authorities, among other things, the power to limit opening times, and force bars and restaurants to only serve seated customers.  

What impact will their expiry have? 

The immediate impact on life in Sweden will be close to zero, as the restrictions imposed on the back of these two laws were lifted months ago. But it does means that if the government does end up wanting to bring back these infection control measures, it will have to pass new versions of the laws before doing so. 

How is the classification of Covid-19 changing? 

The government decided at the start of February that it would stop classifying Covid-19 both as a “critical threat to society” and “a disease that’s dangerous to the public” on April 1st.

These classifications empowered the government under the infectious diseases law that existed in Sweden before the pandemic to impose health checks on inbound passengers, place people in quarantine, and ban people from entering certain areas, among other measures. 

What impact will this change have? 

Now Covid-19 is no longer classified as “a disease that’s dangerous to the public”, or an allmänfarlig sjukdom, people who suspect they have caught the virus, are no longer expected to visit a doctor or get tested, and they cannot be ordered to get tested by a court on the recommendation of an infectious diseases doctor. People with the virus can also no longer be required to aid with contact tracing or to go into quarantine. 

Now Covid-19 is no longer classified as “a critical threat to society”, or samhällsfarlig, the government can no longer order health checks at border posts, quarantine, or ban people from certain areas. 

The end of Sweden’s last remaining Covid-19 travel restrictions

Sweden’s last remaining travel restriction, the entry ban for non-EU arrivals, expired on March 31st.  This means that from April 1st, Sweden’s travel rules return to how they were before the Covid-19 pandemic began. 

No one will be required to show a vaccination or test certificate to enter the country, and no one will be barred from entering the country because their home country or departure country is not deemed to have a sufficiently good vaccination program or infection control measures. 

Does that mean the pandemic is over? 

Not as such. Infection rates are actually rising across Europe on the back of yet another version of the omicron variant. 

“There is still a pandemic going on and we all need to make sure that we live with it in a balanced way,” the Public Health Agency’s director-general, Karin Tegmark Wisell, told SVT

Her colleague Sara Byfors told TT that this included following the “fundamental recommendation to stay home if you are sick, so you don’t spread Covid-19 or any other diseases”. 

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