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KEY POINTS: Germany sets out new Covid isolation rules

German health experts have recommended that states shorten the mandatory Covid isolation period to five days, but have urged people to take a test after this time. Here's the latest.

A test centre in Rostock, northern Germany.
A test centre in Rostock, northern Germany. The German Health Minister has urged people with Covid to take a test before ending their isolation. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bernd Wüstneck

Anyone who gets Covid-19 in Germany in future will still have to complete a mandatory quarantine ordered by the public health department. But the isolation period can be ended after five days.

That’s according to the new isolation and quarantine recommendations from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) and the German Health Ministry, which were published on Monday. 

“They are an expression of our scientific assessment that coronavirus remains dangerous, but that after infection with an Omicron variant, the incubation periods and the course of the disease are shorter,” said Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach at a press conference in Berlin on Monday. 

He added that the continued obligation for people to isolate – rather than making it voluntarily – was because a Covid infection can trigger a life-threatening illness and is not just a flu or cold.

If someone with Covid is in close contact with another person, “then he de facto endangers their lives”, said Lauterbach.

Currently, in most German states people who receive a positive Covid test result have to isolate themselves for 10 days, with the chance to end it from the seventh day with a negative Covid test. 

The new recommendations come after the government and states thrashed out a plan to shorten the quarantine periods during a meeting last Thursday.

READ ALSO: Germany to shorten mandatory Covid isolation 

They are a “uniform minimum standard to guide the states” the Health Ministry said. 

However, some regions – including Bavaria – have already introduced the shortened Covid isolation period. 

Will people need a test to end the isolation?

No, people will not have to take a test to end the isolation period. But the Health Ministry and the RKI have issued an “urgent recommendation” where they call on people to carry out repeated self-testing starting from day five, and to only leave the isolation when they test negative. 

It is expected that when states amend their legislation, they will say that people need to be symptom-free for 48 hours before they can return to their normal lives. All of the states that have changed their rules so far have opted for this system.  

There are different guidelines for people who work in healthcare, old people’s homes, outpatient care and other similar facilities, according to the RKI and Health Ministry.

They follow the same rules as the general population but additionally, as a prerequisite for returning to their daily life from quarantine, they have to be free from symptoms for 48 hours with a negative test result on day five at the earliest. This test should be carried out at a testing centre or doctor’s surgery. 

Lauterbach reiterated during the press conference on Monday that he recommended everyone take a test after five days at the earliest.

What about contacts?

Vaccinated, recovered and boosted people, have not had to quarantine if they come into close contact with someone with Covid-19.

But now everyone – including the unvaccinated – will be exempt from a mandatory quarantine.

The RKI and the Health Ministry, however, have released an urgent recommendation that all contacts of someone with Covid, for instance after outbreaks in households, school or workplaces, “reduce contacts independently” especially when it comes to risk groups, and carry out daily testing to check on their infection status. 

What happens now?

States will be working to amend their laws so they can enforce the new recommendations. So keep an eye out on your local government in the coming days. 

As we’ve been reporting, some states have already shortened the Covid isolation period.

READ ALSO: The Covid rule changes in May across German states

Bavaria, which relaxed isolation rules in mid-April, said it did not support the recommendation for people to get tested. 

“We see the ‘test-to-release’ issue somewhat differently than the federal Health Minister,” Bavaria’s health minister Klaus Holetschek told the Rheinische Post.

Holetschek pointed out that in order to end isolation in the southern state, the person with Covid must be symptom-free 48 hours beforehand.

If not, the isolation has to continue for 48 hours at a time up to a maximum of 10 days. 

Bavaria also recommends that people continue to wear masks for a period afterwards.

Baden-Württemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate and Hesse, among others, are following this plan, Holetschek added. 

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How useful are Germany’s Covid restrictions?

Protective measures such as wearing a mask correctly and lockdowns can be effective in the fight against Covid, an expert commission in Germany has found. But many questions remain unanswered.

How useful are Germany's Covid restrictions?

The council of experts spent months evaluating the effects of measures imposed by the German government to help slow down the spread of Covid-19.

In the presentation of their findings on Friday, the panel said that measures like mask-wearing have had an effect, and can continue to be helpful against coronavirus.

The council said masks could be “an effective instrument”, but that there are limitations.

“An ill-fitting or not tight-fitting mask has a reduced to no effect,” said the council.

If masks are made compulsory again in the future, this should only apply indoors, because the risk of infection is higher there, the report said. 

However the experts added: “A general recommendation to wear FFP2 masks cannot be derived from the data so far.” Virologist Hendrick Streeck, who is on the panel, said that a “separate commission should look into this”.

READ ALSO: Germany’s current Covid mask rules 

On lockdowns, the experts said the usefulness of this measure depended on the infection situation. 

“When only a few people are infected, lockdown measures have a significantly stronger effect,” the report said. The longer a lockdown lasts, and the fewer people are willing to support the measure, the lesser the effect, experts added. 

Similar to to lockdown measures, contact tracing was also found to be effective in the early phases of the pandemic.

Members of the Covid expert panel Jutta Allmendinger, Hendrik Streeck, Harald Wilkoszewski and Helga Rübsamen-Schaeff speak on Friday.

Members of the Covid expert panel Jutta Allmendinger, Hendrik Streeck, Harald Wilkoszewski and Helga Rübsamen-Schaeff speak on Friday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Fabian Sommer

The report authors also said that the success of access restrictions, such as the 2G/3G measures (which mean people have to be vaccinated, recovered or tested to enter a public venue), depended on when people had had their jab or had been infected with Covid.

“The effect of 2G/3G measures is high with current variants in the first weeks after booster vaccination or recovery,” the report says. However, the protection against infection decreases significantly over time. 

In the current phase of the pandemic, it’s difficult to assess how useful these rules are, said the council. They recommended that in future, tests should be recommended as a condition of entry, regardless of vaccination status. 

Meanwhile, the evaluation concluded that risk communication in Germany was poorly used and that the information campaign to the public could have been better designed.

No statement on vaccinations

There are measures on which the committee did not make any statements, including vaccinations. Virologist Streek said that was the task of the Standing Commission on Vaccination (STIKO).

The experts were also weren’t clear on the controversial topic of school closures. Their effectiveness is “still open, despite biological plausibility and numerous studies”, the report said. The panel called for more studies on school closures.

READ ALSO: German Health Ministry lays out autumn Covid plan

The researchers said that they struggled to evaluate some measures due to poor data, and urged authorities to adopt better methods and practices on that front. 

“We have a poor data situation,” said virologist Streeck. 

As Germany is preparing for possible Covid waves in autumn, the Health Ministry will be looking at the report closely.

But Greens’ health expert Janosch Dahmen said the findings were of limited significance.

“The report provides supplementary evidence, but by no means a conclusive assessment of the effect of Covid protection measures,” said Dahmen.

The completion of the report, which should have been published on June 30th, was delayed.

In the run-up, the head of the council of experts, Stefan Huster, dampened expectations for the report.

“Anyone expecting a list with a plus or a minus behind all the individual measures for ‘effective’ or ‘not effective’ will be disappointed,” Huster told Spiegel. “Our perspective is more fundamental and looks at the structures, in terms of being well prepared for a pandemic.”

The panel, which included scientists and researchers in various fields, was commissioned by the German government to carry out the research.