Germany shortens COVID quarantine periods: What you need to know
At the coronavirus summit on January 7, the federal and state governments decided to shorten quarantine periods for both people infected with coronavirus and their close contacts. Here’s an overview of what’s changing with Germany’s quarantine rules.
Why are the quarantine rules changing in Germany?
Germany is following in the footsteps of several other countries around the world, including the US and the UK, that have opted to shorten COVID quarantine periods. The move is a response to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, which has forced politicians to change their approach to a few aspects of pandemic policy.
Previously in Germany, anyone with a (suspected) Omicron infection had to self-isolate for a full 14 days. However, with the new ultra-transmissible variant driving a huge increase in COVID cases in the federal republic, there were fears that people self-isolating en masse would lead to staff shortages in critical industries like healthcare and the emergency services.
Furthermore, some initial studies have suggested that the incubation period (the time between infection and when a person starts showing symptoms) is much shorter for Omicron than for previous COVID variants, perhaps as little as two or three days, making 14 days seem like an unnecessarily long quarantine period.
What are Germany’s new quarantine measures for COVID cases & contact persons?
Last week, therefore, the federal government and the federal states agreed that the quarantine requirements could be reduced for both contact persons and confirmed COVID cases. The rules vary slightly according to whether you’ve tested positive for COVID or have come into contact with someone who has, and what your job is. Here’s an explainer.
Self-isolation rules if you test positive for COVID-19 in Germany
In future, you must only self-isolate for 10 days if you test positive for coronavirus in Germany - down from the 14 days previously. The prerequisite for this is that you are no longer displaying symptoms.
You also have the option of a so-called “test to release”. If you test negative for COVID on day 7 with a PCR or certified rapid antigen test (not a self-test), you can leave self-isolation.
The rules are different if you work in a setting that brings you into contact with vulnerable people (for instance in a hospital, care facility or similar setting). In this case, you only have the option of taking a PCR test on day 7 to release yourself from self-isolation, and then only if you have been symptom-free for at least 48 hours beforehand.
Quarantine rules for close contacts of COVID cases in Germany
The general quarantine requirement for people identified as close contacts of positive COVID cases has also been shortened to 10 days (down from 14). You can also test to release on day 7 with a PCR or certified rapid antigen test (not a self-test). If you work in a hospital or care home (or similar) the test to release option is only available with a PCR test.
However, if you have received a booster shot, you are completely exempt from quarantine requirements as a contact person. This also applies to people who have recently been fully-vaccinated (i.e. they had their last jab between 14 days and three months ago), recovered people who tested positive less than three months ago, and recovered people who are also fully-vaccinated.
The quarantine rules are also slightly different for children who attend school or childcare. As close contacts of positive COVID cases, they can end their quarantine period after five days with a PCR or rapid antigen test. Exceptions may also be made to this rule if schools are enacting their own protective measures, such as daily testing or mask requirements.
When do the new rules come into effect?
This is causing some confusion. The points paper agreed upon by the federal and state governments left it open when exactly the new quarantine rules should come into effect, leaving it up to individual states and municipalities to enforce.
However, the federal government updated its website on Friday to say that the new rules were now the “current rules”. Many people therefore assumed that the change came into effect immediately - prompting some to end their quarantine or isolation periods prematurely. The city of Hamburg was one of the first to announce that the quarantine rules announced on Friday are not yet valid.
In order to implement the new regulations, the so-called COVID-19 Protective Measures Ordinance must be updated. The update then needs the approval of the Bundestag and the Bundesrat - before the federal states can even go about implementing it. The change isn’t likely to come into effect before the weekend at the earliest.