German government proposes easing some Covid-19 measures from Monday

Chancellor Angela Merkel wants to relax contact restrictions slightly from next week in Germany - but extend much of the shutdown until March 28th, a draft paper shows.

German government proposes easing some Covid-19 measures from Monday
A person cycling in Cologne on Tuesday March 3rd. Photo: DPA

Merkel and state leaders are meeting on Wednesday March 3rd to thrash out the next steps for the pandemic in Germany.

According to a draft paper, the federal government and states are discussing an extension of the shutdown until March 28th. That means restaurants, cafes, bars as well as leisure, cultural and sporting facilities would remain closed.

However, some restrictions could be relaxed. The paper gives an idea of what’s to come – but no decisions are set in stone at this stage.

A gradual relaxation of curbs is warranted, it says, because of the upcoming ramp-up in vaccine deliveries and the arrival of mass rapid antigen tests, reported AFP.

“These two factors will clearly change the pandemic situation,” it reads. For the weeks ahead, Germany’s strategy will be based around “vaccinations, testing, contact tracing and reopenings”, it adds.

Here’s a look at what the proposals say:

– According to the draft, contact restrictions could be eased slightly so that up to five members of two households will be allowed to meet again from March 8th. Children up to 14 are not included in the rule. Currently a household is allowed to meet with one other person outside of the household.

– The draft also provides for exceptions for the Easter holidays: from April 2nd to 5th, visits to relatives could be possible even if more than two households are involved.

READ ALSO: What can we expect from Germany’s plans to ease lockdown?

– Bookshops, flower shops and garden markets are to be allowed to reopen in all federal states. This would be the next reopening step after primary schools in February, and hairdressers from March 1st. Prerequisites are appropriate hygiene concepts and a limit of one customer per 20 square metres. Some states have already began opening these facilities.

– Other personal-related services such as beauty salons, as well as driving schools are also to be allowed to reopen, provided that they organise for negative daily tests and hygiene plans. Customers here, however, would have to show a negative quick test or self-test, under the draft plans.

– Sports involving up to 10 people outdoors may be possible again under certain conditions. 

– The federal states could ease measures further depending on the regional number of cases per 100,000 residents in seven days (incidence rates).

– A so-called emergency brake could be introduced: the rules in place currently up until March 7th would come into force again if an incidence exceeds a certain number for three consecutive days. The federal and state governments are still negotiating the exact number for this.

– The draft states all travel within and outside Germany should still be avoided at this stage.

The national testing strategy should also be supplemented by the following measures, which are to be implemented step by step by the beginning of April, according to the draft:

– For safe school operation and childcare, states will ensure there are testing concepts for staff in schools and childcare. All pupils should receive the offer of at least one or two free rapid tests per attendance week, including a certificate of the test result.

– Businesses will be required to offer their staff the offer of at least one or two free rapid tests per week, including a certificate of the test result.

What else should we know?

The draft was put together by the so-called ‘group of four’, which includes the head of the Bavarian state chancellery, Karoline Gernbauer, the head of the Berlin senate chancellery, Christian Gaebler, State Secretary for Finance, Wolfgang Schmidt, and Merkel’s chief of staff Helge Braun.

They worked with the Chancellor and the heads of states to put together proposals.

The plans still need to be discussed by all heads of states and Merkel on Wednesday. Final decisions will be taken then.

The 7-day incidence in Germany has been hovering around 60-65 Covid-19 infections per 100,000 people for several days now. The incidence is still to be used as a yardstick when imposing or relaxing coronavirus restrictions. The goal of the federal and state governments is to push the figure below 35.

The draft may be a disappointment for all those who had hoped for comprehensive relaxations of coronavirus measures. According to the document, the next round of talks between the heads of the federal states and the Chancellor will take place on March 24th – one week before Easter.

At that time, further opening steps, for example in hospitality, culture, events, travel and hotels, are to be discussed.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Could there be a new wave of Covid-19 in Germany this autumn?

It’s back again: amid sinking temperatures, the incidence of Covid-19 has been slowly rising in Germany. But is this enough to merit worrying about the virus?

Could there be a new wave of Covid-19 in Germany this autumn?

More people donning face masks in supermarkets, friends cancelling plans last minute due to getting sick with Covid-19. We might have seen some of those familiar reminders recently that the coronavirus is still around, but could there really be a resurgence of the virus like we experienced during the pandemic years?

According to virologists, the answer seems to be ‘maybe’: since July, the number of people newly infected with Covid-19 has been slowly rising from a very low level.

According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), nine people per 100,000 inhabitants became newly infected in Germany last week. A year ago, there were only around 270 reported cases.

Various Corona variants are currently on the loose in the country. According to the RKI,  the EG.5 (also called Eris) and XBB.1.16 lines were each detected in the week ending September 3rd with a share of just under 23 percent. 

The highly mutated variant BA.2.86 (Pirola), which is currently under observation by the World Health Organisation (WHO), also arrived in the country this week, according to RKI. 

High number of unreported case

The RKI epidemiologists also warned about a high number of unreported cases since hardly any testing is done. They pointed out that almost half of all registered sewage treatment plants report an increasing viral load in wastewater tests.

The number of hospital admissions has also increased slightly, but are still a far cry from the occupation rate amid the pandemic. Last week it was two per 100,000 inhabitants. In the intensive care units, only 1.2 percent of all beds are occupied by Covid-19 patients.

Still, a good three-quarters (76.4 percent) of people in Germany have been vaccinated at least twice and thus have basic immunity, reported RKI. 

Since Monday, doctors’ offices have been vaccinating with the adapted vaccine from Biontech/Pfizer, available to anyone over 12 years old, with a vaccine for small children set to be released the following week and one for those between 5 and 11 to come out October 2nd.

But Health Minister Karl Lauterbach has so far only recommended that people over 60 and those with pre-existing conditions get vaccinated.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Who should get a Covid jab this autumn in Germany?

“The pandemic is over, the virus remains,” he said. “We cannot predict the course of coming waves of corona, but it is clear that older people and people with pre-existing conditions remain at higher risk of becoming severely ill from Covid-19”

The RKI also recommended that people with a cold voluntarily wear a mask. Anyone exhibiting cough, cold, sore throat or other symptoms of a respiratory illness should voluntarily stay at home for three to five days and take regular corona self-tests. 

However, further measures such as contact restrictions are not necessary, he said.

One of many diseases

As of this autumn, Covid-19 could be one of many respiratory diseases. As with influenza, there are no longer absolute infection figures for coronavirus.

Saarbrücken pharmacist Thorsten Lehr told German broadcaster ZDF that self-protection through vaccinations, wearing a mask and getting tested when symptoms appear are prerequisites for surviving the Covid autumn well. 

Only a new, more aggressive mutation could completely turn the game around, he added.

On April 7th of this year, Germany removed the last of its over two-year long coronavirus restrictions, including mask-wearing in some public places.

READ ALSO: German doctors recommend Covid-19 self-tests amid new variant