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COVID-19 RULES

Four German states call for end to mandatory Covid isolation

People in Germany have to isolate at home for at least five days if they test positive for Covid. But four states want to see a change to this rule.

An employee at a German pharmacy with a negative Covid test.
An employee at a German pharmacy with a negative Covid test. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Peter Kneffel

In a joint letter, the states of Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, Hesse, and Schleswig-Holstein called on Health Minister Karl Lauterbach to drop the isolation requirement for people who get a Covid infection in Germany. 

Baden-Württemberg health minister Manne Lucha, of the Greens, said there should be a move towards people taking personal responsibility rather than the state ordering an isolation period, reported the Tagesschau. 

“We should gradually get into the mode of treating a corona infection like any other infectious disease where the rule is: if you are sick, stay at home,” said the Green politician.

The rules on isolation differ slightly from state to state in Germany, but the general requirement is that people who test positive for Covid have to go into isolation at home and avoid all contact with people outside the household. The isolation period lasts at least five days or a maximum of 10 days.

In some states, and for hospital and care workers, a negative test is required to end the isolation period early.

Several politicians – as well as Andreas Gassen, chairman of the board of the National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians, have previously spoken out in favour of ending all Covid isolation and quarantine obligations.

READ ALSO: Should Germany get rid of Covid mandatory isolation?

The four German states called on Lauterbach, of the Social Democrats, to change the rules by October 10th.

In their letter, they refer to Austria, where the isolation obligation has been replaced by so-called “traffic restrictions” since August 1st.

Under these rules, people who get Covid-19 have to wear an FFP2 mask for 10 days in most places, and they are not allowed to visit nursing homes and clinics. They can, however, go to their workplace.

“The end of mandatory isolation has not led to any relevant increase in reported cases in Austria,” the four German health ministers said in their letter.

They argued that much of the population in Germany is immunised, either through vaccination or infection.

However, Lauterbach has so far rejected calls to get rid of the isolation requirement. He said that due to Covid cases rising, he didn’t want to “add fuel to the fire” and increase the risk of infections occurring in companies or at gatherings.

Bavaria’s health minister Klaus Holetschek (CSU), said he was worried about lots of people having to take time off work to isolate at the same time, which could put pressure on critical infrastructure. 

Schleswig-Holstein’s health minister Kerstin von der Decken (CDU), said the adjustment of the isolation rules would be “a step on the way back to normality.”

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COVID-19 RULES

Germany to drop mask mandate in trains and buses from February 2nd

Germany will end the requirement to wear face masks on long-distance trains and buses from February 2nd as the coronavirus pandemic loosened its grip on the country, authorities announced on Friday.

Germany to drop mask mandate in trains and buses from February 2nd

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach made the announcement after consultations with ministers from Germany’s 16 federal states, saying “the infection situation has stabilised.”

Lauterbach, however, encouraged people to continue wearing masks voluntarily “on the basis of personal responsibility”, adding “the virus should not be trivialised” and warning of potential longer-term impacts.

Several factors contributed to the policy change, Lauterbach said, including a higher level of immunity in the public and a reduced chance of new mutations, which meant a winter resurgence of the virus was unlikely.

The situation is “tense but manageable” in hospitals, Lauterbach added.

The requirement, which has been in place since the early stages of the pandemic, had been scheduled to expire on April 7nd but will now end sooner.

A number of German states – including Bavaria and Schleswig-Holstein – have already relaxed mask rules in regional public transport, while several others are set to do so at the start of February. 

READ ALSO: Several German states to drop Covid masks on public transport in February

However, rules on the country’s long-distance train and bus network remain the central government’s responsibility.

Germany was one of the few remaining countries in Europe to keep a mask requirement, with many having scrapped rules or downgraded them to recommendations in 2022.

Alongside Germany, Spain is the only other large European country to maintain mask rules on long-distance trains and public transport, with the Spanish government announcing in October that these will remain in place until at least March 2023.

Free “test-to-release” tests to end 

In another key move away from pandemic measures, the government has also announced that people will have to pay for their Covid tests in order to end self-isolation from January 16th.

Medical staff who need to test before returning to work and visitors to clinics and care homes will still receive their tests free of charge until February 28th. 

Self-isolation rules vary from state to state, but some require a negative test if people want to stop isolating after five days instead of the full ten.

These are currently funded by the government, but funding is due to end on January 15th. 

The news comes after a group of five states announced that they would be ending mandatory self-isolation for people infected with Covid.

Instead, people will be required to wear masks while out and about and observe social distancing rules. 

READ ALSO: Four German states poised to end mandatory Covid isolation

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