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EXPLAINED: Bavaria to ease some Covid restrictions

The German state of Bavaria has announced some Covid relaxations, including allowing up to 10,000 spectators at major events.

EXPLAINED: Bavaria to ease some Covid restrictions
Bavaria state premier Markus Söder attends the online state cabinet meeting. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Peter Kneffel

Bavaria’s cabinet decided on Tuesday to lift the ban on spectators attending large events like football matches. 

From Thursday onwards, a quarter of seats can be filled at big events – such as football games and major cultural events, head of the Bavarian state chancellory Florian Herrmann (CSU) said in Munich.

However, there are strict rules including that the number of spectators can’t go over 10,000. 

Admission will also be subject to the 2G-plus rule, meaning that only vaccinated/recovered people can attend and they have to either bring evidence of a negative Covid test or be boosted. 

There will also be a ban on alcohol and people will be urged to keep a distance from others.

According to state health minister Klaus Holetschek (CSU), only seating will be allowed, not standing arrangements.

Before Christmas, the federal and state governments had agreed that major events should take place without spectators. However, this was not implemented across all states.

After Chancellor Olaf Scholz and state leaders failed to reach an agreement on this issue at the Covid crunch talks on Monday, Bavaria decided to go in its own way and allow fans into stadiums again.

KEY POINTS: How Germany will tackle latest phase of the Omicron wave

More capacity in culture

Cinemas, theatres and similar venues will be allowed to operate at 50 percent capacity instead of 25 percent.

Herrmann called the change in capacity a “moderate increase that can be well justified”. At the same time, 2G-plus indoors will remain for cultural venues, while the state will stick to 2G entry for hospitality. 

Most other German states have 2G-plus in the hospitality sector meaning that people who have been vaccinated or recovered from Covid have to show proof of their booster shot or a negative Covid test when going to a restaurant or bar.

Bavaria has already got rid of 2G in shops following a court ruling that said the regulation was not clear enough. 

Changes to youth services and driving schools

The cabinet also said that unvaccinated pupils can attend youth services, as well as the vaccinated. Children and young people are regularly tested at school like no other population group, Hermann said. 

Meanwhile, the 3G restriction will apply to exams and classes, as well as theory and practice lessons at driving schools. It means that unvaccinated people will also be able to attend if they have a negative test, as well as those who have vaccinated or have recovered. 

It comes after the federal and state governments agreed to stick with the current Covid measures, with Chancellor Scholz saying it was important to stay on course. 

READ ALSO: Germany to keep current Covid measures – but change testing strategy

However, as has been the case throughout the pandemic, German states tend to interpret agreements in their own way. 

On Twitter, state leader Markus Söder said that the changes being implemented by Bavaria were to “adjust and simplify”.

“But protection remains high with 2G-plus and FFP2 masks,” he said. “Pupils can also make use of all the offers of youth work again thanks to regular school tests, because social participation is important.”

Bavarian state ministers said the occupancy of intensive care beds by Covid-19 patients had dropped by 18 percent within a week. They said the situation would be monitored closely. 

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POLITICS

Why is Bavaria’s premier singing with ABBA on stage during an official visit to Sweden?

Bavaria's state premier Markus Söder has been making headlines during a visit to Sweden. It begs the question: why is he there? And why is he on a stage with hologram versions of the pop legends ABBA?

Why is Bavaria's premier singing with ABBA on stage during an official visit to Sweden?

It’s a must-do for anyone visiting Stockholm. 

The ABBA Museum tells the story of the famous four and even lets visitors experience what it’s like to be on stage with them. 

That’s exactly what Bavarian state premier Markus Söder did on an official visit to Sweden this week. 

“I’m a huge ABBA fan,” the politician, who’s the leader of the Christian Social Union (CSU) – the Bavarian sister party of the CDU – tweeted on Thursday with pictures of himself at the museum. 

“I’ve loved listening to their music since childhood and still do today. ABBA are unique artists. They are among the greatest in the world. My favourite song: Dancing Queen.”

It’s no wonder that Söder became a Dancing Queen on the stage at the museum, leaving many in Germany open-mouthed (and a little confused). 

Despite being a staunch conservative (the CSU is a traditional centre-right party), the politician is known for indulging his silly side, opting for elaborate fancy-dress costumes – including Shrek and Homer Simpson – during Fasching (carnival) – and drinking beer at Bavarian folk festivals. 

Showcasing this part of his personality seems to work well for him. Shortly after tweeting the video of himself dancing and singing with ABBA on X, formerly Twitter, it had been viewed by tens of thousands of people, received well over 1,000 likes and hundreds of retweets. Not bad for a German regional politician. 

Apart from what some would call a PR stunt with his favourite band, Söder has been doing a lot of high profile networking during the three-day visit. 

He met with Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson as well as defence ministers. 

And on Thursday, Queen Silvia of Sweden welcomed him to the royal palace in the centre of Stockholm.

Söder said the appointment was a “great honour”.

A reception from the Queen is unusual for a regional state leader and other politicians outside of a national government.

However, Queen Silvia does have close ties to southern Germany, including Bavaria.

The Queen was born in Heidelberg, Baden-Württemberg in 1943, and the 80-year-old met her husband, Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf, at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich.

Markus Söder meets Queen Silvia from Sweden on Thursday.

Markus Söder meets Queen Silvia from Sweden on Thursday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sven Hoppe

The royal couple have visited Bavaria together, while Queen Silvia last visited Bavaria in 2023 for the opening of a new building for the World Childhood Foundation, which she founded.

On Friday, Söder was set to conclude his trip with a visit to the space centre in Kiruna in the far north of Sweden.

‘Brothers in Arms’

The question remains, though – why is Söder on an international visit in the first place?

One main topic for Söder is defence policy. 

With fears that Russia will expand its war in future, Söder is in favour of reintroducing compulsory military service in Germany in the next “five to seven years”, and voiced interest in hearing about the Swedish model as well as other defence topics.

PODCAST: Why Germany is getting ‘war ready’ and the growing citizenship backlog

“We have to make a plan immediately to strengthen the Bundeswehr,” said Söder during his visit, calling for more funding from the government to the German army. 

He said Bavaria welcomed Sweden’s entry into NATO, adding: “We are Brothers in Arms.”

The CSU leader also agreed to form a joint government commission with Swedish Prime Minister Kristersson. The aim is to have a regular exchange around once a year on specific topics such as technology, economics and energy.

Overall, Söder is clearly having a successful diplomatic trip, raising questions that he could be planning to stand for the German chancellorship in future – a point that has come up a few times in the last few years since former Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) stepped down. 

READ ALSO: Why Bavaria does politics differently to the rest of Germany

He might want to re-think his small talk, though, if he has ambitions of rising up further on the political and world stage. According to Bavarian regional broadcaster BR24 he described the weather in Sweden as “Arschkalt” (bloody cold) during his visit to the royal residence. 

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