Federal Minister of Health Jens Spahn on the way to the presentation of the National Reserve Health Protection at the Federal Press Conference on July 21, 2021 in Berlin.

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The German Ministry of Health is preparing comprehensive measures in the coming month that could exclude unvaccinated people from many areas of public life if the Covid-19 infection rates continue to rise.

Health Minister Jens Spahn has submitted proposals to parliament and representatives of the 16 federal states on how the state should deal with the pandemic in the coming months.

The plan comes as German authorities remain cautious about the potential impact of the highly transmittable Delta-Covid-19 variant at a time when many pandemic restrictions have been dropped. Covid-19 cases have risen gradually across the country in recent weeks, albeit from a relatively low level.

Respiratory diseases like Covid tend to thrive in cooler weather conditions, as people typically spend more time together in enclosed spaces, with less ventilation and less personal space than in summer.

The country’s new Covid plan, entitled “Safe through autumn and winter”, was reported for the first time by the German media DPA and the Süddeutsche Zeitung.

What is proposed

The measures, which would be among the strictest in Europe, would ensure that only those who have been vaccinated against the virus, have recovered from infection or have a negative test result have access to many facilities.

Shops, restaurants, hairdressers, beauty salons, indoor sports and large outdoor events were all listed as venues that could become inaccessible to those who did not comply with the proposed changes.

This was known as the “3G rule” and refers to the German terms for vaccinated, recovered (recovered) and tested (tested). The directive already applies to several areas of public life, including air travel and hotel accommodation.

The Ministry of Health said the government was also considering restricting unvaccinated people if infections and hospital stays continued to rise. This has been called the “2G rule” because only vaccinated or recovered people are allowed to visit certain facilities, while unvaccinated people are excluded.

A woman will be tested for the coronavirus on July 23, 2021 in a mobile test station next to a nightclub in Berlin-Kreuzberg amid the ongoing coronavirus / COVID-19 pandemic.

STEFANIE LOOS | AFP | Getty Images

In parallel with these measures, the ministry recommended masking requirements by spring 2022; Test, ventilation and hygiene guidelines would have to be implemented nationwide in schools and day-care centers; and the country should get rid of free Covid-19 testing. Hopefully the latter will provide some incentive to vaccinate, as vaccinations are offered free of charge to all adults.

However, free rapid tests would still be offered to those who cannot be vaccinated or who do not recommend it, such as pregnant women, under the required age for vaccination, allergy sufferers, or other risk groups.

The Covid-19 plan is to be debated on Tuesday at a summit between Chancellor Angela Merkel and the Prime Minister. If approved, the measures should come into effect from September.

Legislators split

Civil rights groups have warned that vaccination-like measures are likely to be counterproductive from a public health perspective, and lawmakers should instead give priority to educating people about vaccination.

At a press conference last month, Merkel warned that measures that constitute an “indirect compulsory vaccination” must be carefully considered and indicated that the focus would remain on encouraging people to get their Covid vaccinations for the time being.

The legislature seems to be divided on this issue. Merkel Chief of Staff Helge Braun said late last month that those who oppose the vaccine should not expect the same freedoms as those who have been fully vaccinated.

Family and Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht has since rejected this view, defended the country’s current application of the “3G Rule” and called on the government to consider other ways of promoting vaccine uptake.

More than 44.5 million people in Germany, around 53% of the total population, are fully vaccinated against the virus.

At her last summer federal press conference as Chancellor at the end of last month, Merkel again called for vaccinations. “The more of us vaccinated, the more freedom we will regain.”

Stressing the importance of people encouraging their family, friends and colleagues to consider vaccinating, Merkel warned that the German Robert Koch Institute for Infectious Diseases could see another sharp rise in Covid-19 in the coming months. Cases expected.

“I tell everyone who is still unsure: A vaccination not only protects you, but also the people who are important to you, who mean a lot to you, your loved ones,” said Merkel.