Germany should get rid of forced Covid isolation, says MP

FDP parliamentary group leader Christian Dürr says that Germany should follow the example of the UK and end forced isolation for people who get Covid.

FDP parliamentary group leader Christian Dürr at a party event in April.
FDP parliamentary group leader Christian Dürr at a party event in April. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler

As The Local has been reporting, German states are in the process of shortening the Covid isolation requirement to a minimum of five days instead of seven. 

But Christian Dürr, of the liberal Free Democrats, said the country should end mandatory isolation, and make it voluntary instead.

Germany should follow the example of the UK, where those who test positive no longer have to go into forced isolation, FDP parliamentary group leader Dürr told the Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland (RND).

“We should also lift the isolation rules in Germany in the case of a Covid infection, and rely on voluntary treatment,” he said.

“Those who test positive but are symptom-free should be allowed to leave the house with a mask and distance,” he added. “I am firmly convinced that people can make a decision on this issue on their own responsibility. There is no longer a need for government regulation for this.”

 Up until now, 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 Robert Koch Institute (RKI) and German Health Ministry earlier this week presented relaxed guidelines for isolation following a Covid infection.

They stipulate that the isolation period for Covid-infected people can end after only five days. However, a negative test after this time is “strongly recommended”. There are tougher guidelines for health and care staff.

KEY POINTS: Germany sets out new Covid isolation rules

States can choose to implement this rule in their own way. Many states say that people need to be symptom-free for 48 hours before they can return to their normal lives.

Back in April, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach announced that Germany would ditch mandatory isolation rules and make them voluntary. But he backtracked on this move, calling it a mistake. 

Germany is emerging through the latest Covid wave, and medical experts say there is less pressure on hospitals.

“We have 1,300 Covid patients in intensive care, the lowest number since September last year,” he head of the board of the German Hospital Association, Gerald Gaß, told RND.

Due to the falling number of infections overall, the situation regarding staff absences is also easing. Nevertheless, things are not back to normal, said Gaß, 

He said that hospitals can now gradually catch up on previously postponed services. For this reason “the burden on hospital staff will therefore remain high over the summer”, he said.

On Wednesday Germany reported 106,631 Covid infections within the latest 24 hour period and 241 deaths. The 7-day incidence stood at 591.8 infections per 100,000 residents.

On Monday, no Covid deaths were reported – but experts warned that figures were misleading due to delays in health offices submitting details. 

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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.