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COVID-19 RULES

Germany to bring in new Covid rules ahead of ‘difficult’ winter

With infection numbers shooting up once again in Germany, states are set to bring in a new set of Covid measures on October 1st.

Germany to bring in new Covid rules ahead of 'difficult' winter
A sign on a train window tells customers to cover their mouth and nose on-board. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Hauke-Christian Dittrich

From Saturday, masks will no longer be required on commercial flights, though people will still be expected to wear an FFP2 mask on long-distance trains.

States will also be given the option to introduce mandatory masks in other public indoor spaces, including on local public transport and in schools. If they choose to bring in masks, they’ll also have the freedom to introduce exceptions to masks for people who are recently vaccinated or who have tested negative for Covid.

States will also be able to introduce compulsory testing in schools and nurseries.

READ ALSO: German states likely to keep mask mandate on public transport

Speaking at a press conference alongside Robert Koch Institute (RKI) chair Lothar Wieler on Friday, German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach defended the decision to keep Covid rules in place when other countries in Europe have largely got rid of their pandemic measures. 

“It’s not for me to criticise what other countries are doing,” said Lauterbach. “We have a particularly difficult winter ahead of us due to the energy crisis, we don’t want to make it worse through the Covid crisis.”

The SPD politician also defended plans for mandatory masks for residents and staff in nursing and care homes. Having 40 or 50 vulnerable people together in an enclosed space is “extremely high-risk”, he said. 

Under the new rules set to be introduced on Saturday, residents of care homes will be expected to wear FPP2 masks in all common areas of the home, and will only be able to take them off in their bedrooms.

“For people in nursing homes, the FFP2 mask requirement means a considerable cut in their quality of life,” Regina Görner, chairwoman of the Federal Association of Senior Citizens’ Organisations (Bagso), told DPA:

“The nursing home is their home, in which they can then no longer move freely without a mask.”

Visitors to nursing homes, meanwhile, will have to supply a negative Covid test, while staff will be tested three times a week. 

Under the autumn and winter rules, people across Germany will also be required to wear an FFP2 mask at their doctor’s surgery and in medical outpatient facilities such as hospitals.

“We’re better prepared than last autumn,” Lauterbach told reporters on Friday. “We have the infection numbers under control, we have this wave under control.” 

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS – Germany’s new Covid-19 rules for autumn

Steep rise in cases

As the weather turns colder, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) has reported a steep rise in respiratory infections, including Covid-19.

Last week, the number of Covid patients jumped dramatically from 500,000 to 1.2 million per week, with cases rising significantly in every age group.

Meanwhile, the 7-day incidence of Covid infections per 100,000 people shot up from 409 on Thursday to 466 on Friday. The previous week, the weekly incidence stood at 294 per 100,000 people. 

The numbers are believed to be partially inflated by the ongoing Oktoberfest beer festival, which is being held for the first time since the pandemic started. In Munich, the location of the festival, the weekly incidence is almost 800. 

Speaking at the press conference in Berlin on Friday, RKI chair Wieler warned people not to get complacent about the threat of infection.

“A mild course of illness simply means not ending up in hospital,” he said. “We should be conscious of how much risk we want take on, and how much risk we can avoid.”

RKI chief Lothar Wieler

Robert Koch Institute chair Lothar Wieler (l) and Heath Minister Karl Lauterbach (r) hold a press conference in Berlin on Friday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Wolfgang Kumm

Despite the looming energy crisis, the RKI boss advised the public to ensure that rooms were well ventilated, adding that spaces normally occupied by a large number of people should be aired out more regularly.

He also advised people with Covid symptoms to stay home until they felt better in order to avoid passing on any infections, and warned that people should be especially careful to avoid contact with vulnerable people.

“Just like before, these people need our solidarity,” he said. 

Self-isolation and quarantine rules vary from state to state, but people who test positive for Covid generally have to isolate for a minimum of five days and a maximum of 10.

In some cases, people can take an additional Covid test in order to end their isolation early.

The RKI has also recommended that people wear a mask in public enclosed spaces. 

READ ALSO: What will the Covid situation in Germany look like this autumn?

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COVID-19 RULES

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

Germany will end the requirement to wear face masks on long-distance trains and buses from February 2nd as the coronavirus pandemic loosened its grip on the country, authorities announced on Friday.

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

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach made the announcement after consultations with ministers from Germany’s 16 federal states, saying “the infection situation has stabilised.”

Lauterbach, however, encouraged people to continue wearing masks voluntarily “on the basis of personal responsibility”, adding “the virus should not be trivialised” and warning of potential longer-term impacts.

Several factors contributed to the policy change, Lauterbach said, including a higher level of immunity in the public and a reduced chance of new mutations, which meant a winter resurgence of the virus was unlikely.

The situation is “tense but manageable” in hospitals, Lauterbach added.

The requirement, which has been in place since the early stages of the pandemic, had been scheduled to expire on April 7nd but will now end sooner.

A number of German states – including Bavaria and Schleswig-Holstein – have already relaxed mask rules in regional public transport, while several others are set to do so at the start of February. 

READ ALSO: Several German states to drop Covid masks on public transport in February

However, rules on the country’s long-distance train and bus network remain the central government’s responsibility.

Germany was one of the few remaining countries in Europe to keep a mask requirement, with many having scrapped rules or downgraded them to recommendations in 2022.

Alongside Germany, Spain is the only other large European country to maintain mask rules on long-distance trains and public transport, with the Spanish government announcing in October that these will remain in place until at least March 2023.

Free “test-to-release” tests to end 

In another key move away from pandemic measures, the government has also announced that people will have to pay for their Covid tests in order to end self-isolation from January 16th.

Medical staff who need to test before returning to work and visitors to clinics and care homes will still receive their tests free of charge until February 28th. 

Self-isolation rules vary from state to state, but some require a negative test if people want to stop isolating after five days instead of the full ten.

These are currently funded by the government, but funding is due to end on January 15th. 

The news comes after a group of five states announced that they would be ending mandatory self-isolation for people infected with Covid.

Instead, people will be required to wear masks while out and about and observe social distancing rules. 

READ ALSO: Four German states poised to end mandatory Covid isolation

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