Masks and tests: German Health Ministry unveils autumn COVID strategy
Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach and Federal Justice Minister Marco Buschmann have unveiled a draft of their new coronavirus strategy, which is to apply from October, to try to limit the spread of coronavirus this autumn and winter.
Germany bets on masks and tests to combat COVID this autumn
“Germany will be better prepared for the next corona winter than in previous years,” Karl Lauterbach said on Wednesday. The new strategy is designed to replace the previous Infection Protection Act which is due to expire on September 23, 2022. The new rules will apply between October and April - and so ministers have dubbed it the “O to O” or October to Easter (Oktober bis Ostern) strategy, a phrase commonly used in relation to winter tyres.
“Be prepared (Vorbereitet sein) - maintain proportionality (Verhältnismäßigkeit wahren) - protect vulnerable people (vulnerable Personen schützen): Our corona protection concept from October is based on these three Vs,” Buschmann added.
Making heavy use of the winter tyres analogy (which, as the saying goes, should be fitted by drivers between October and Easter), the Health Ministry’s plan is centred on a set of basic COVID measures (“winter tyres”), with some supplementary extra rules (“snow chains”), which can be implemented should the COVID situation deteriorate.
Basic COVID measures for autumn 2022 (“winter tyres”)
The basic measures that will apply nationwide from October include:
- Mask requirement on aeroplanes and in long-distance transport
- Mask and test requirements in hospitals (with exceptions for people receiving treatment)
- Preventative measures in workplaces such as options to work from home, mask wearing and regular testing
On top of these basic measures, individual federal states will also have use of a “toolbox” of additional measures that they could choose to implement, including:
- FFP2 mask requirement on public transport
- FFP2 mask requirement in other public spaces
- Test requirement in restaurants, bars and leisure centres
- Mask requirement in secondary schools
- Testing in schools and daycare
In most cases, an exception to the mask and test rules will be made for “freshly” vaccinated or recovered people who have received a jab or recovered from COVID within the past three months.
Additional COVID measures (“snow chains”)
Should the coronavirus situation worsen, to the extent that it represents a significant strain on the healthcare system, other measures could be implemented, including:
- Compulsory FFP2 mask wearing indoors
- Capacity limits for indoor events
- 1,5-metre distance requirements
- Mask requirements outdoors if a minimum distance of 1,5 metres cannot be maintained
Buschmann said that Germany would not be going back into lockdown, but that masks were crucial in helping to keep infection rates down in winter. He said that the concept drawn up by him and Lauterbach did not envisage lockdowns and curfews but instead relied on “effective and reasonable” measures.
Mixed response to government’s proposal
The draft of the Infection Protection Act was met with mixed responses. While most figures broadly praised the decision to rule out lockdown and school closures, others warned that the decision to allow federal states to implement their own measures might lead Germany back to a “patchwork” situation with varying rules from place to place, causing confusion.
Teachers also expressed incomprehension as to why the government had decided to allow a mask requirement for school pupils in the 5th grade and above - to avoid school closures - but not for younger children. The president of the Teachers’ Association, Heinz-Peter Meidinger, said the association did not understand “why in the same case, i.e. to maintain school operations, a mask requirement cannot be ordered at primary schools.”
Some also raised concerns about how practical the plans might be to implement - especially the exception to mask and test requirements made for newly vaccinated or recovered people. “If, for example, the obligation to wear a mask should be differentiated according to whether the last vaccination was three or four months ago, then I wonder how that should work in everyday life,” said the chairperson of the General Practitioners’ Association, Ulrich Weigeld, to the Rheinische Post.
The German Association of Cities also queried whether the government was planning to reinstate its recently-scrapped free Bürgertest COVID testing programme, and how its occupation-related compulsory vaccination campaign will continue.
The draft law will now be put to the Federal Cabinet before going to the Bundestag to be voted on.
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