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"Mask requirement" sign in Berlin in front of the Brandenburg Gate
Many German cities willl face harsher restrictions come MondayImage: John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images

Germany passes nationwide COVID restrictions

April 22, 2021

Residents of coronavirus hotspots will face nightly curfews and school closures when the new rules come into force. The legislation allows uniform restrictions to be rolled out across the country.


German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Thursday signed a national "emergency brake" into law shortly after the legislation passed the upper house of parliament.

The new measure allows uniform restrictions to be enforced in coronavirus hotspots across Germany.

The law, which includes curfews and school closures, takes effect on Friday, with the new rules based on infection rates to apply from Saturday.

The so-called emergency brake law passed the Bundestag yesterday before heading to the Bundesrat, which is made up of representatives of the 16 federal states.

Infections 'far too high'

Ahead of the Bundesrat vote, Chancellor Angela Merkel's chief of staff Helge Braun defended the amendment of the Infection Protection Act.

"The current level of infections is far too high in most regions and threatens to overwhelm our health care system," he told Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland on Thursday. "The measures of the federal emergency brake are therefore urgently needed there. They have already shown in many countries that they are suitable to slow down the incidence of infection. And they are also proportionate in view of the serious situation."

The secretary-general of the free-market liberal Free Democrats (FDP), which has been one of the most vocal critics of the law, reiterated his party's opposition. Volker Wissing told public broadcaster ZDF on Wednesday evening: "In a free constitutional state, the state must clearly justify why it intervenes so massively in fundamental rights. The federal government has not succeeded in providing this justification."

What are the new rules?

The law states that if cities or districts exceed a seven-day incidence rate of 100 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants over three consecutive days, then local authorities must:

  • Restrict personal contacts to one household and one other person, not counting children under 14. Exemptions include meetings of spouses and partners or the exercise of custody and access rights.
  • Implement a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew with exceptions for walking and jogging alone until midnight. Other exceptions could be made for emergencies, professional practice, nursing and care, animal care, or other significant reasons.
  • Ensure nonessential shops only allow customers in with a negative COVID-19 test and an appointment. If the incidence rate exceeds 150, customers can only pick up preordered goods (also known as click & collect). 
  • Close in-person teaching at schools if the incidence rate exceeds 165. Exceptions for graduating classes and special schools are possible.
  • Limit funerals to 30 mourners.

The law will stand until June 30, with any further changes requiring parliamentary approval.

Legal challenge

Even before the law was passed by the Bundesrat, Berlin lawyer Claus Pinkerneil lodged a complaint with the German Constitutional Court. 

He told the DPA news agency that he hoped the court would stop Steinmeier from ratifying the law.

The so-called Free Voters and FDP members of the Bundestag have also announced lawsuits.

aw/dj (AFP, dpa)

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