EXPLAINED: These are the planned changes to Germany’s ’emergency brake’ Covid rules

The German government is trying to introduce uniform Covid-19 rules for badly-hit areas. But before the plans pass into law, politicians are having a rethink on curfews and schools.

EXPLAINED: These are the planned changes to Germany's 'emergency brake' Covid rules
An ordungsamt worker in Cologne where a curfew from 9pm to 5am is in place. Photo: DPA

Politicians in Germany are holding crunch talks over a new nationwide ’emergency brake’ mechanism that would force states to implement tougher Covid rules when infections reach a certain level. 

On Monday, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives (the CDU and CSU) plus the Social Democrat (SPD) parliamentary groups – which make up the coalition government – discussed changes to the Infection Protection Act draft. 

If the law is passed by the Bundestag, states would be obliged to enforce new restrictions as soon as more than 100 new coronavirus infections per 100,000 inhabitants are registered over three days in a seven-day period.

Here are the proposed changes under discussion: 

– Night-time curfews in badly-hit Covid areas should be in place from 10pm to 5am – an hour later than initially planned. Jogging and walks would be allowed until midnight. People would generally only be allowed to leave their homes during the curfew for work or emergencies.

– The collection of ordered goods (click and collect) in non-essential shops should still be possible even when there are a high number of Covid infections.

– In schools, virtual learning would be compulsory when a region hits a 7-day incidence of 165 Covid infections per 100,000 people or more. In the original draft, a threshold of 200 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants in seven days was specified. But experts said this was too high. For children up to the age of 14, sports should continue to be possible in groups.

– The outdoor areas of zoos and botanical gardens are to remain open to visitors with an up-to-date negative Covid test.

– Employers must provide two coronavirus rapid tests per week to staff who can’t work from home. If the employer says staff can work from home, employees have to accept this offer, according to parliamentary circles.

– All regulations are initially limited to June 30th.

Other parts of the draft include limiting gatherings of people from different households. Contact with one person outside of the household is permitted, with a maximum of five people being allowed together in hotspots.

READ MORE: When will Germany decide on new nationwide Covid restrictions?

When would this come into force?

The Bundestag wants to pass the law on Wednesday. It will then go to the Bundesrat – which represents Germany’s 16 states – on Thursday.

If it is passed, the update to the Infection Protection Act would be put into place as soon as possible, with the aim of breaking the third wave.

Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) said it was “crucial” to take action in three different sections. He named companies, daycare and schools as well as “above all the area of ​​private contacts”, as the places where contact needed to be cut down.

READ ALSO: ‘No way around it’: Merkel defends Germany’s nationwide coronavirus measures

Spahn called on states to introduce restrictions immediately. “Nobody has to wait for this law,” he said. “It’s an emergency brake. Ideally, the brakes have already been applied beforehand.” Some states have already started doing this.

Coronavirus cases continue to rise, as the Our World in Data graph below shows, despite cultural venues, restaurants and leisure facilities having been closed for months in Germany.

Is everyone in agreement?

If they aren’t, we’ll certainly hear about it during the Bundestag hearing on Wednesday.

“The Bundestag has to agree, without any reservations or conditions,” said SPD parliamentary deputy Dirk Wiese.

Criticism came from his SPD colleague Karl Lauterbach who said an earlier curfew from 8pm rather than 10pm would have been “more effective” and saved more lives.

Union parliamentary group vice leader Thorsten Frei (CDU) said the compromise will help “bridge the difficult weeks until the end of June at the latest”.

The draft law is suitable for “effectively breaking” the third wave of the pandemic, he said. On the other hand, the acceptance of the measures in the population will be strengthened.

READ ALSO: German lockdown measures could last ‘until the end of May or June’

Member comments

  1. 1.) Vaccinate ALL of us. Now.

    2.) Apply and followthrough on harsh penalties (bashed on NOT social distancing and wearing masks) for all rule breakers: loss of salary for a minimum of two weeks or confiscate their mobile phone for four weeks.

    We will then see the number of cases dropped drastically…

  2. Virtual school? Might as well cancel it entirely since kids don’t learn a thing. Their “experts” aren’t. Science has shown that it is rare for kids to spread COVID at school and most cases are among staff that caught it from other staff or out in their own social lives. Stop punishing the children. Thankfully, our school won’t close no matter how high the cases go because all the teachers are vaccinated.

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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