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Friday, February 3, 2023

Corona measures in Germany: which rules apply where


Even two years after the start of the pandemic, the virus eludes all forecasts and even short-term predictions. Just four weeks ago, Gerald Gass, President of the German Hospital Society (DKG), welcomed the gradual relaxation of the coronavirus measures decided by the federal government. After all, “the numbers made it clear that we have also passed the peak of the omicron wave.” At the start of the hospital summit in Berlin, the DKG issued a much less optimistic-sounding statement: German hospitals “continue to work in a state of emergency,” he says. “Hope for some relief and routine operations is fading.”

In the hope of ending the Corona measures, it does not seem to be much different. In many federal states, the number of cases has been rising steeply for days and is reaching maximum values. As before in the pandemic, the new turnaround is giving rise to a jumble of answers to the big question of what reaction would make sense: loosen up anyway? Or keep the above requirements?

Virtually all state governments will extend the above measures

In fact, the federal government had chosen March 20 as the day of freedom. However, the Infection Protection Act, which stipulates this date, allows for a two-week transition period. During this time, the above measures can be continued if the federal states so wish. It seems that practically all state governments will use this deadline until April 2 and for the time being they will give up total freedom. Once again, the federal patchwork quilt is being unfurled. The measures differ from one federal state to another, but at least the patterns are similar.

Under the federal ordinance, the mask requirement must continue to apply in hospitals, nursing homes, buses and trains. Baden-Württemberg has also planned to keep them in schools. Neighboring Bavaria wants to exclude primary and special schools, although the seven-day incidence in children aged six to eleven has risen to more than 3,000. Rhineland-Palatinate also plans to prescribe masks in class only at secondary schools. From North Rhine-Westphalia it is said that the Ministry of Education is still reviewing whether this obligation should fall from next Monday.

In Hesse, the 3-G rule for restaurant visits should apply after March 20, just like in Bavaria. Also, only those who have been vaccinated or those who have recovered have access to cultural or sporting events. If you want to visit clubs or discos, you also need a negative corona test. In Lower Saxony, on the other hand, there is no difference with the rest of the gastronomy. This means that even in clubs, everyone sitting or eating can remove their masks. A face mask should only be worn when getting up and when dancing.

In addition, the tests are still mandatory in many federal states, especially in schools. Brandenburg, for example, provides for exams at three-day intervals for schoolchildren. Berlin also wants to continue testing in schools, but from the beginning of April the mask requirement should drop. The ruling mayor, Franziska Giffey, also announced that, in general, there would no longer be free tests for citizens. With the new Infection Protection Act, the previous testing regulation will expire. Many testing sites that are currently supported by the federal government can therefore no longer be maintained.

There are also voices in favor of relaxing the number of cases to an all-time high

The new law will no longer give states the opportunity to limit the number of visitors to major events. Therefore, sold-out football stadiums are possible again in April. However, in Brandenburg, the government is considering only allowing visitors who have been vaccinated or recovered. In Berlin, on the other hand, there should no longer be any restrictions on mass events.

In all countries, there is impotence in the face of the decreed flexibility. A doctor from Berlin expressed his surprise in the “RBB-Abendschau” that now “the end of the pandemic was declared by decree”, although the figures show a different reality. The rigor of the measures was “finally lost”. The Lower Saxony state government also expressed its dissatisfaction with the draft of the new Infection Protection Act. The measures anchored there “are not enough” to contain the pandemic, “more prophylactic, preventive options” are necessary. However, the government announced that it would vote in favor of the draft in the Bundesrat next Friday. Otherwise, there would be no possibility of issuing corona rules, a spokeswoman explained.

While the FDP in particular is pushing for easing at the federal level, this cannot be pinpointed as precisely at the state level. The Baden-Württemberg CDU, for example, came out strongly in favor of mandatory face masks in schools. “We consider this to be absolutely necessary in view of the violent incidence of infections that we have in Germany and Baden-Württemberg,” Deputy Prime Minister Thomas Strobl said. In Brandenburg, on the other hand, the Christian Democrats are calling for this obligation to be abolished.

There are also voices that generally support reducing the number of cases to a record level. Andreas Gassen, director of the National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians, said citizens should be able to trust political compromises. The health system is currently in no danger of being overloaded. That is why Gassen thinks: “As a society, we must finally learn to live with Corona without politicians shutting down public life every few months.”

Pandemic measures: "worrying": The number of infections is increasing, and since a few days the number of corona patients in intensive care units has increased again.

“Worrying”: The number of infections is increasing and the number of corona patients in intensive care units has increased again for a few days.

(Photo: Daniel Vogl/Picture Alliance/dpa)

Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach argues similarly, even if he calls the current figures “worrisome.” He has asked the federal states to make use of the transition period until April 2 and, if necessary, also the hotspot rule. This is one of the few tools federal states will have if the new Infection Protection Act goes into effect as planned. Therefore, further restrictions are possible in regions with particularly high incidences and overloaded clinics. But an exact limit is not defined in the law. From Lower Saxony it was said that things would become critical if the number of new admissions to hospitals due to Corona increased to 20 per 100,000 inhabitants per week. Most recently, the hospitalization rate there was 13.8.

In Bavaria, where the incidence just passed the year 2000, the government is considering declaring the entire country a hotspot. However, there are still no signs that other federal states will follow suit. Mayor Giffey, for example, explained that hotspot regulation is currently out of the question for Berlin and is subject to strict conditions. “For this there would have to be a severe infection situation with a greater overload of critical infrastructure.” When he said that on Tuesday, the seven-day incidence in the German capital was 871.8.


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