Germany loosens restrictions for vaccinated people as Covid cases fall

Austria and Denmark also planning similar relaxation of rules as optimism returns

A terrace overlooking the river Spree in Berlin. Photograph: John MacDougall/AFP via Getty

A terrace overlooking the river Spree in Berlin. Photograph: John MacDougall/AFP via Getty

 

Germany has joined other European countries in loosening restrictions for those vaccinated against Covid-19.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet approved plans on Tuesday to roll back constraints for vaccinated people, allowing them to shop, get a haircut and attend cultural events.

Though still obliged to wear a mask in public places for the foreseeable future, they will no longer need to quarantine on their return to Germany.

The changes are likely to apply by the end of this week, after an expedited parliamentary procedure, though the southern state of Bavaria plans to lift restrictions by Thursday. Its legendary Oktoberfest beer festival has been cancelled for the second consecutive year but Bavarian beer gardens will reopen in two weeks’ time, along with other outdoor gastronomy, cinemas and hotels.

Bavaria’s new regime applies in districts with an incidence rate below 100 cases per 100,000 of population over seven days, with other states likely to follow suit.

One in four of Germany’s 412 districts and cities now falls into that category, up eight-fold in a week, as new, tighter restrictions appear to have broken Germany’s third wave. New Covid-19 cases are down from nearly 11,000 daily a week ago to 7,500 on Tuesday, with a reproduction rate of 0.88. Germany’s current seven-day incidence rate is running at 141.

German health expert Karl Lauterbach, an MP for Berlin’s ruling Social Democratic Party (SPD), said an added boost from the vaccination programme will become palpable “only when the quota of those vaccinated with at least one injection is between 40 and 60 per cent”.

With this likely to happen in Germany by the third or fourth week of May, he said: “The summer will be good.”

Surprising speed

To date nearly 30 per cent of all adults in Germany have now received at least one jab, and 8 per cent are fully vaccinated.

The proposed new regime – and its speedy arrival – has surprised many of Germany’s 16 federal states while doctors’ associations have warned against lifting the test obligation for vaccinated people. And Germany’s police union, whose members are enforcing a night-time curfew in many districts, say it remains unclear how they should police the new rules.

Across the border in Austria, Vienna is planning a similar relaxation of rules for vaccinated people from May 19th.

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has promised to introduce a national “green pass” if agreement on a pan-EU pass is not reached at this week’s meeting of EU leaders.

“People rightly want to live normally again soon, and for that rules are needed, and we will do that in Austria with a green entry pass,” he said on Tuesday.

Hundreds of people wait in lines at a vaccination mobile in Cologne, Germany. Photograph: Martin Meissner/AP Photo
Hundreds of people wait in lines at a vaccination mobile in Cologne, Germany. Photograph: Martin Meissner/AP Photo

Farther north, Denmark’s ruling coalition has reached a deal on the next stage of reopening – returning all pupils to school and reopening theatres, concert venues and cinemas for up to 2,000 people from Thursday.

The agreement, which also includes gyms, allows access with a negative test or completed vaccination pass.

Four European Championships matches in June and July in Copenhagen will go ahead, with 16,000 fans allowed to attend each match.

The new measures are too little to save the country’s summer festival season, with Denmark’s best known events, including Roskilde and Tinderbox, being cancelled on Thursday.

“The infection situation in Denmark is stable, but we see that many other countries have been hit by a third wave and new shutdowns, which we would very much like to avoid,” said Danish justice minister Nick Hækkerup in a statement.

Danish Covid-19 cases are down to a quarter of December’s rates, while 23.4 per cent of residents have received at least one vaccine.