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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Is the pandemic over in Germany?

As much of Germany lifts - or prepares to lift - the last remaining Covid-19 measures, intensive care units say Covid-19 admissions are no longer straining the system.

Is the pandemic over in Germany?

Despite a difficult winter of respiratory illnesses, intensive care units in Germany say Covid-19 admissions have almost halved. The number of cases having to be treated in the ICU has gone down to 800 from 1,500 at the beginning of this month.

“Corona is no longer a problem in intensive care units,” Gernot Marx, Vice President of the German Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine, told the German Editorial Network. “A the moment, we don’t have to think every day about how to still ensure the care of patients, but how to actually run a service that can help.”

Marx said the drop has allowed them to catch up on many postponed surgeries.

The number of sick employees in hospitals is also falling, helping to relieve the pressure on personnel.

The easing pressure on hospitals correlates with the assessment of prominent virologist and head of the Virology department at Berlin’s Charite – Christian Drosten – who said in December that the pandemic was close to ending, with the winter wave being an endemic one.

German federal and state governments are now in the midst of lifting the last of the country’s pandemic-related restrictions. Free Covid-19 antigen tests for most people, with exceptions for medical personnel, recently ended.

READ ALSO: Free Covid-19 tests end in Germany

Six federal states – Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg, Hessen, Thuringia, Lower Saxony, and Schleswig-Holstein – have ended mandatory isolation periods for people who test positive for Covid-19.

Bavaria, Saxony-Anhalt, and Schleswig-Holstein have ended the requirement to wear FFP2 masks on public transport, while Berlin, Brandenburg, Saxony, Thuringia, and Mecklenburg-West Pomerania will follow suit on February 2nd.

At that time, the federal government will also drop its requirement for masks to be worn on long-distance trains. Labour Minister Hubertus Heil says that’s when he also intends to exempt workplaces – apart from medical locations – from a mask requirement.

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

Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg will also end the requirement for patients to wear a mask in doctor’s offices. That’s a requirement that, so far, will stay in place everywhere else. Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach has also said that he thinks this requirement should remain. 

But some public health insurers and general practitioners are calling for a nationwide end to the obligation for wearing masks in doctor’s offices.

“The pandemic situation is over,” National Association of Statutory Health Physicians (KBV) Chair Andreas Gassen told the RND network. “High-risk patients aren’t treated in all practices. It should generally be left up to medical colleagues to decide whether they want to require masks in their practices.”