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COVID-19

Is Germany heading for post-Christmas lockdown measures?

The rapidly spreading Omicron variant is leading health experts and politicians to believe that another partial lockdown will be necessary in Germany.

A red traffic light shines on the beach promenade in the Baltic Sea resort on the island of Usedom
A red traffic light shines on the beach promenade in the Baltic Sea resort on the island of Usedom. Photo: picture alliance/dpa Stefan Sauer

Although the Omicron variant has so far been spreading more slowly in Germany than in other countries, such as the UK, experts believe that this is likely to change quickly. 

According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the nationwide 7-day incidence of new Covid infections rose slightly again on Monday to 316 cases per 100,000 people, up from the previous day of 315.4.

Though this number has dropped significantly from the previous week, when the incidence was at 402.9, the numbers are expected to shoot up again if Omicron takes hold. 

Covid summit on Tuesday

On Tuesday, the federal and state governments will hold a special summit to discuss the Covid situation and further action in light of the spread of the Omicron variant. It is expected that new Covid restrictions will be decided upon in this meeting, 

In anticipation of the summit, the German government’s Covid Expert Council called for action “in the coming days”. In a statement, the panel expressed the need for “well-planned and well-communicated contact restrictions”.

READ ALSO: German government advisory panel urges fresh Covid measures to fight Omicron

The panel’s scientists have concluded that booster vaccinations alone won’t be able to hold back the Omicron wave and that contact restrictions will be necessary.

Carsten Watzl, Secretary General of the German Society for Immunology, reiterated the need for new contact restrictions, telling the Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper: “We will have to bring the incidences that are shooting up with Omicron down very sharply, and we will not succeed in doing that now, in this fourth wave, with booster vaccinations, but only by bringing back distancing  and contact restrictions”.

READ ALSO: Germany must prepare for ‘massive’ Omicron wave, warns Health Minister

No lockdown before Christmas

As the federal and state governments are firstly meeting on Tuesday, December 21st to  discuss further restrictions, it is unlikely that lockdown measures will be brought before December 25th. 

On Sunday, German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach ruled out a lockdown before Christmas, telling the news a German broadcaster: “No, a lockdown – like in the Netherlands, before Christmas – we will not have that here”.

READ ALSO: Hold Christmas parties in Germany online to stave off Omicron, says RKI

Green Party health politician Janosch Dahmen also stated that a lockdown will not come into force until after the holidays.

“Given the extremely high transmissibility of Omicron, we will probably not be able to avoid a lockdown after Christmas. One possible scenario would be a well-planned lockdown in early January,” he said.

However, he also urged people to restrict Christmas celebrations to small family circles and to keep taking tests. 

North Rhine-Westphalia’s state premier  and chairman of the Conference of Minister Presidents, Hendrik Wüst (CDU), sees the prospect of tighter contact restrictions coming in around the turn of the year. 

He told ARD television that he does not consider further restrictions to be necessary as early as Christmas, but that “we won’t be able to have the big New Year’s Eve bash”.

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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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