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COVID-19 RULES

Is Germany set to ease or tighten Covid restrictions?

German chancellor Olaf Scholz is meeting with regional leaders on Monday to talk about Covid restrictions in Germany. Here's a look at their draft agreement and what we can expect.

People queue for a PCR test in Berlin's Kreuzberg area on Sunday.
People queue for a PCR test in Berlin's Kreuzberg area on Sunday. There is a huge demand for PCR tests due to rising Covid infections. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Fabian Sommer

What’s happening?

Germany is seeing a steep rise in the number of Covid infections amid the Omicron wave.

On Monday Germany reported 63,393 Covid infections within the latest 24 hour period and the 7-day incidence stood at 840.3 cases per 100,000 people. 

However, hospitals are not seeing a similar increase so far, although some scientists say they expect that to happen. Around 3.77 people per 100,000 residents were hospitalised with a Covid infection within the last seven days, according to figures released on Saturday. Germany’s previous peak hospitalisation rate of around 15 was reached in winter 2020.

Chancellor Scholz was set to meet with state leaders on Monday to discuss the next steps of the pandemic. At the last meeting earlier in January, leaders tightened restrictions by bringing in the 2G-plus rules to the hospitality industry – meaning people who are vaccinated/recovered have to show proof of a booster shot or a negative Covid test to enter. They also shortened quarantine periods. 

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The question is: will we see an easing or tightening of restrictions in view of the Omicron wave, or will things stay the same?

What does Germany’s Council of Experts say?

The so-called Corona Council of Experts, which was set up by the German government late last year, has also deliberated and issued a statement before the Federal-Länder meeting.

It advises that the measures currently in place be maintained, and it also advocates that Germany prepare for a further increase in the number of Covid infections.

According to their report, the rising incidences could soon lead to an overload of the healthcare system.

Will there be more stringent measures?

As usual, Covid measures will be discussed at the meeting. In all likelihood, however, no further tightening of rules is expected. 

The draft resolution put together ahead of the crunch talks says that things will mostly continue as they are. And Chancellor Scholz has already made it clear that he sees no reason to change course.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach and several state leaders have also said publicly that they want to maintain the current regulations.

So things look set to stay the same on Covid rules. What about PCR tests?

That’s a good question. PCR tests have been a major topic among German leaders in the past 10 days because demand for tests is outweighing supply, and laboratories are overloaded, especially in Covid hotspots like Berlin.

Health ministers held another meeting over the weekend and agreed that they want to see PCR tests restricted so that vulnerable groups and key workers get priority.

The draft agreement states that priority should be given to the elderly, the previously ill and the immunocompromised, employees in clinics, surgeries, nursing homes and institutions for the integration of people with disabilities.

However, it is still unclear how that would be implemented in practice and when it would come into force. It could be, for instance, that people who receive a positive rapid test or a red alert on the Corona-Warn-app do will not need to take a PCR test for confirmation in future. 

For any changes to happen, the current test regulations have to be revised after the federal-state consultations.

A person holds an FFP2 mask in Munich.

A person holds an FFP2 mask in Munich. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Karl-Josef Hildenbrand

According to the draft resolution, the Health Minister is to work out a modified testing regime with his colleagues from the states and adapt the National Testing Strategy and the Coronavirus Testing Ordinance accordingly. The draft proposal also says that the Health Ministry is to also work on expanding PCR testing capacities.

What could change for quarantine rules and contact tracing?

According to the draft proposal, the federal and state governments want to change their strategy on these matters and implement decisions agreed by the health ministers on Saturday.

Due to the sharp rise in the number of infections, health authorities should give priority in future on contact tracing for Covid cases in hospitals, nursing homes, and facilities for people with disabilities.

Who’s calling for Covid rules to be eased?

With the 2G-plus rules in full swing – and causing a lot of confusion among the population due to a lack of clear communication from German authorities – many people are wondering when restrictions may be relaxed.

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Bavaria’s state premier Markus Söder recently called for an easing of rules, especially “in culture, sport and youth work”.

He told Augsburger Allgemeine that he would not support any tightening of restrictions.

“Omicron is not Delta, so we can’t transfer the measures one-to-one from one mutation to the other,” said Söder. Experts say Omicron generally causes milder illness than Delta in vaccinated people. 

Who doesn’t want to see the rules eased right now?

Scholz spoke out against relaxations.

“In any case, it is certainly not appropriate to relax the rules across the board in the middle of the Omicron wave,” he told the Süddeutsche Zeitung.

The head of the government of North Rhine-Westphalia, Hendrik Wüst (CDU), and his SPD colleagues Manuela Schwesig from Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Stefan Weil from Lower Saxony expressed similar views.

Wüst told the Tagesspiegel that “a signal for large-scale, blanket relaxation would be too early at the moment”.

“Around 1,500 people a week are still dying of corona, and the staff in hospitals are completely exhausted,” Wüst said.

READ ALSO: Fact check: Does Germany really have the world’s strictest Covid measures?

What does the draft agreement say about relaxations?

The federal government and states want to develop plans for easing the restrictions if an overload of critical infrastructure can be ruled out, according to the draft resolution.

However, the details haven’t been fleshed out in the draft so we can expect some discussion on that in the talks. 

Will vaccine mandates be discussed?

This will probably be touched on since it is such a huge and controversial issue in Germany right now.

Germany is set to bring in a vaccine mandate for health care workers in March. A general vaccine mandate is still to be debated and will be voted on in the Bundestag at a later date. 

The draft proposal repeats its appeal for people in Germany to get vaccinated, and urges the federal and state governments to step up their vaccination campaigns. 

Member comments

  1. To be fair. I highly doubt they will reduce restrictions otherwise their vaccine mandates won’t go through. All about big phama profit now.

  2. Personally I think we’ve arrived at the point where further restrictions on those that have been fully vaccinated would be pointless. It’s time to put those that have been fully vaccinated first and to stop pissing around with the anti vaxxers with their so called freedom, individual rights it’s my body bollocks. I’m sick to the teeth of hearing about it

    1. I think we should move them to their own city. Keep them away from the righteous people. The only problem is it would actually cost us in taxes. If only there was a way to answer the un vaccinated question.

      Be careful what you wish for. We are living in times reminiscent of pre war. You allow them to come after people you don’t care about. They’ll be no-one left when they come after something you do care about. We are all people on this little rock called Earth. Showing compassion wouldn’t hurt even if you don’t agree with their views.

      “Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.” Bernard Shaw.

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COVID-19 VACCINES

Germany’s top court approves Covid vaccine mandate for health workers

Germany's highest court ruled on Thursday that the mandatory Covid-19 vaccination rule for employees in health and care sectors is constitutional.

Germany's top court approves Covid vaccine mandate for health workers

From mid-March this year, health and care workers in Germany have had to prove they are vaccinated against Covid-19 or recently recovered. 

If they can’t provide this proof they face fines or even bans from working – however it is unclear how widely it has been enforced due to concerns over staff shortages. 

On Thursday the constitutional court rejected complaints against the partial vaccination mandate, saying the protection of vulnerable people outweighs any infringement of employees’ rights.

The law covers employees in hospitals as well as care homes, clinics, emergency services, doctors’ surgeries and facilities for people with disabilities. 

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Germany’s Covid vaccine mandate for health staff

The court acknowledged that the law meant employees who don’t want to be vaccinated would have to deal with professional consequences or change their job – or even profession. 

However, the obligation to be vaccinated against Covid as a health or care worker is constitutionally justified and proportionate, according to the judges.

They said that’s because compulsory vaccination in this case is about protecting elderly and sick people. These groups are at increased risk of becoming infected by Covid-19 and are more likely to become seriously ill or die.

The protection of vulnerable groups is of “paramount importance”, the resolution states.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach welcomed Thursday’s ruling and thanked health care facilities who have already implemented the vaccine mandate. He said: “The state is obliged to protect vulnerable groups”.

Course of the pandemic doesn’t change things

According to the ruling, the development of the pandemic in Germany is no reason to change course. 

The court based its decision on the assessment of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) and medical societies, stating that it could still be assumed that a vaccination would protect against the Omicron variant.

It’s true that the protection of vaccines decreases over time, and most courses of disease are milder with the Omicron variant. Nevertheless, the institution-based vaccination obligation remains constitutional because, according to the experts, the higher risk for old and sick people has not fundamentally changed.

A vaccine mandate that would have affected more of the population in Germany was rejected by the Bundestag in a vote held in April

MPs had been allowed to vote with their conscience on the issue rather than having to vote along party lines. 

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