EXPLAINED: The rules and official advice for Christmas and New Year in Germany

The German government and states have agreed to tighten Covid restrictions ahead of New Year's Eve, and have issued advice for Christmas. Here's what you need to know.

People at Berlin's main station ahead of Christmas.
People at Berlin's main station ahead of Christmas. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christophe Gateau

In 2020, Germany had stricter lockdown measures in place over the festive season. Bars, restaurants, cultural and leisure facilities had closed in November. Private gatherings were limited to a maximum of five people from two households – with an additional four close family members allowed over Christmas. New Year was also very quiet, with fireworks and big gatherings banned. 

In 2021 things are different in Germany, but there are still tough restrictions. Among them are nationwide 2G rules for most public places such as non-essential shops, culture and leisure facilities. It means only people with proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid can enter – what some politicians call a de facto ‘lockdown for the unvaccinated’. 

READ ALSO: Germany agrees tougher Covid restrictions from December 28th

Here’s a look at the latest rules and advice.

Christmas 2021 – contact restrictions

The government has not ordered nationwide contact restrictions for vaccinated/recovered people for Christmas, but some states are choosing to bring these in in the coming days. 

Hamburg and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, for instance, say that private gatherings between vaccinated and recovered people are limited to 10 people (not including under 14s) from December 24th or Christmas Eve. 

Contact restrictions for people who choose not to get vaccinated are already in place and will continue. Unvaccinated people are allowed to meet with their own household and a max of two people from another household.

Other restrictions such as the 2G rule for access to public venues remain in place, and states/businesses can also choose to implement the 2G-plus rule (where vaccinated and recovered people have to show a negative test for entry). 

The German government has issued strong advice, urging people to celebrate Christmas in smaller groups. 

In their agreement reached on Tuesday December 21st, Chancellor Olaf Scholz and the 16 state leaders asked people in Germany “to celebrate responsibly during the Christmas holidays”.

They added: “The number of contacts at family celebrations should be limited, and the rules for keeping distance should be observed. The usual hygiene measures – wearing masks and regular ventilation – should also be in place.”

A sign for Covid testing in Wilhelmshaven. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Hauke-Christian Dittrich

The government and states also call on people to take a Covid-19 test “before meeting family members and friends”, in particular when coming into contact with older people.

“This way Christmas can be celebrated together safely,” they said. 

Are restrictions being tightened?

Yes. As we mentioned above, some states are choosing to make restrictions tougher before Christmas, so keep an eye on the situation where you live. 

Nationwide, the federal and state governments have agreed that rules will become tougher from December 28th at the latest (so states must bring the rules in by this deadline). The aim is to target large New Year’s Eve parties to try and avoid an accelerated spread of Covid in view of the expected “explosive” Omicron wave.

By December 28th:

  • Nightclubs and dance venues will have to shut
  • In a bid to avoid large celebrations over New Year’s, just 10 people who are vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 will be allowed to gather for private parties (excluding children up to 14-years-old)
  • Contact restrictions for unvaccinated people remain in place
  • Large organised events, like football games, will have to take place without spectators
  • As already decided by the government, the sale of fireworks is banned over New Year, and setting off fireworks is strongly discouraged to protect the health system and essential services
  • German authorities strongly advise that people take Covid tests before socialising 

What about vaccinations?

Germany is aiming to keep up the pace of giving out vaccinations and boosters over the holidays. 

The government and states thanked health care staff for their work and urged them to continue getting jabs into arms over the holidays.

In their agreement, the government said it wanted to provide a further 30 million vaccinations by the end of January 2022, with the aim to make access to vaccines “quick and easy”.

Authorities also want to expand vaccination services for children.

READ ALSO: Germany’s vaccine panel recommends booster shots after three months

Could restrictions be even tighter?

Yes. The agreement says that these restrictions are the “minimum standards” nationwide, but regions can choose to have extra rules or tighten existing ones. 

Some states already have harder lockdown measures in place, such as Saxony which has been badly hit in the fourth wave, with many intensive care units at full capacity. 

The government and states are set to meet again on January 7th. They will decide then on whether to bring in even more restrictions or to ease off. They will refer to the newly set up ‘council of experts’ ahead of the meeting.

It’s unlikely that there will be an emergency meeting during the holidays, but it of course depends on how the infection situation develops.

What about travel?

The government and states haven’t officially ordered people to limit travel. But there are already regulations in place for foreign travel. They were recently tightened for people coming from the UK where Omicron is widespread.

For travel within Germany, there’s the 3G rule for public transport, meaning people have to be vaccinated, recovered or tested against Covid before they go on a bus, train or tram (test must be taken within 24 hours of travel).

READ ALSO: Should I travel within Germany or abroad during the holidays?

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) had called for tougher measures, including the closure of restaurants, bars and clubs, and an order for essential travel only, to be introduced “immediately”.

But the government and state leaders went against their calls. 

What else should I know?

The government and states are also calling on operators of critical infrastructures (like emergency services, public transport and other essential services) to “immediately review and adapt their respective operational pandemic plans and ensure that they can be activated at short notice”.

There are fears that when the Omicron wave hits, many people will have to take time off work at the same time, which could paralyse essential services. 

Will clubs and other businesses receive support?

Yes. The German government and states said they were extending the bridging aid (Überbrückungshilfe IV) for businesses affected by the restrictions. 

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German politicians row over tougher mask rules for autumn

Summer is not yet in full swing yet - but German politicians are already caught in a row over what Covid regulations will be tightened when autumn arrives.

German politicians row over tougher mask rules for autumn

It emerged earlier this week that Health Minister Karl Lauterbach, of the Social Democrats (SPD), is considering how to adapt the Covid measures in autumn, with a view to making it possible to reintroduce compulsory indoor mask-wearing.

That would mean masks could once again be mandatory in places like shops and restaurants when not sitting at a table.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Germany’s current Covid mask rules

But the SPD’s coalition partner, the Free Democrats (FDP), are already digging their heels in. 

Justice Minister Marco Buschmann, of the FDP, slammed Lauterbach’s move to talk about changing the rules before a proper assessment of the situation. 

“I am in favour of following the law,” Buschmann told the Funke-Zeitung. “That is what an evaluation provides for.” 

The results of the evaluation should “absolutely” be taken into account “before we hastily commit to individual measures”, the FDP politician said.

Under the Infection Protection Act, ‘basic protection’ measures apply, with mask-wearing mandatory only in places like public transport, on flights to and from Germany, in hospitals, medical practices, and care facilities.

The law expires on September 23rd this year. Lauterbach told ZDF on Wednesday that his ministry was already planning for possible Covid outbreaks in autumn, and he said it was “absolutely necessary” to consider making masks mandatory indoors again.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Germany’s current Covid mask rules

FDP deputy leader Wolfgang Kubicki said tougher Covid restrictions in autumn should only be possible under strict conditions – and that scientific evidence had to show they were needed.

“There will not be another autumn and winter in which fundamental rights are restricted because of a haze of data fog,” the Bundestag vice president told DPA.

He said the FDP’s Covid policy, which involved pushing for Covid restrictions to be dropped earlier than coalition partners the SPD and Greens, was working out. 

“At present, it can be seen that the current course, which the FDP has pushed through under fierce hostility, has not led to the predicted collapse of the health system,” he said. 

Kubicki added that “a number of mistakes” had been made in Germany’s coronavirus policy in past two years. He said school closures, “inhumane” isolation of residents in old people’s homes, and the travel restrictions, that meant people in Germany could only travel a maximum of 15km from their home at one point, were some of the errors. 

Teachers hope for masks in schools

However, some German teachers take a different view.

The President of the German Teachers’ Association, Heinz-Peter Meidinger, recently advocated for mandatory masks in schools to be imposed again.

“Politicians are once again not doing their homework on the subject of pandemics and schools,” he told the Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland (RND).

He said masks could be “a decisive factor” in keeping schools open in the event of a Covid autumn wave, and that the government needs to amend the Infection Protection Act.

The chairperson of the Education and Science Union, Maike Finnern, has a similar view.

“A good testing strategy and the wearing of masks in the buildings can also play a decisive role in the future,” Finnern said. “To this end, the legal basis must now be created, for example, for mandatory masks, so that measures can take effect quickly and with legal certainty if necessary,”.