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COVID digest: Germany draws up framework to ease rules

March 9, 2022

German ministers have revealed more about their plans to ease most of the regulations to contain COVID-19 later this month. Meanwhile, Austria has dropped its law making vaccination mandatory. Follow DW for more.

People walk a shopping street in Cologne
The new rules would allow states to define specific areas such as districts, towns or regions as hotspotsImage: Martin Meissner/AP Photo/picture alliance

The coalition government in Germany has agreed on new COVID-19 measures that will run after the current set, which end on March 19.

It means certain basic provisions will be kept in place, such as the wearing of masks on public transport, and testing to protect the particularly vulnerable in nursing homes or hospitals.

However, under the new rules, states would have the option to introduce "hotspot measures" in certain areas; for instance where case numbers are high, there is a sharp increase in cases, or where there is a new variant of interest or concern.

These could see measures such as vaccination-only entry to venues, or vaccination-plus-test entry requirements reintroduced.

The provisions would require state parliaments to vote in favor, and require the exact extent of the hotspot to be defined.

That could be a neighborhood, a town, a region, or even an entire state.

Some additional restrictions could also be kept in place until April 2, to give states the time to establish legal outlines for the new rules.

Overall, the law covering hotspots would be expected to stay in place until September 23.

The Cabinet was expected to approve the draft of the new legislation on Wednesday after Social Democrat Health Minister Karl Lauterbach reached a compromise with Free Democrat Justice Minister Marco Buschmann.

The decision comes despite rising infection numbers with the nationwide 7-day incidence rising to 1,319 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants per week.

"I still have hope that we can control the increase," Lauterbach said.


Austria is putting its law obliging people to get a COVID-19 vaccination on ice, the country's ministers for health and constitutional affairs said.

The decision comes six days before fines for breaches were due to start being imposed. The measure had been in effect since February 5, but enforcement was only due to begin on March 15.

It was the most sweeping mandate in the European Union as it applied to all adults with few exceptions.

The government said the decision had been taken in accordance with the "principle of proportionality," since the country has seen a reduction in the strain on intensive health units. Its impact on the country's vaccination rate had been minimal to date.

Four days after Austria lifted nearly all its remaining coronavirus restrictions, the number of new infections has climbed to a new high.

Authorities reported 47,795 new cases in the past 24 hours.

Austria: Opposition of vaccine mandate

The face of light-touch approach to the COVID-19 crisis in Sweden is to take up a new role with the World Health Organization (WHO).

Anders Tegnell, Sweden's state epidemiologist for nine years, was the public face of the country's strategy in the fight against coronavirus.

Sweden relied on much looser measures than other European countries, and was far more guarded about the introduction of any kind of lockdown.

The 65-year-old will work in Geneva with a focus on ensuring equitable access to coronavirus vaccines.


Hong Kong has announced plans to give more medical resources to elderly people as COVID-19 infections sweep through care homes.

Deaths have climbed rapidly among the mainly unvaccinated seniors.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam told a media briefing the government would strengthen resources and set up more isolation and temporary care facilities.

In China, the financial hub of Shanghai is moving quickly to curb the spread of COVID-19 amid a rising wave of local symptomless cases.

Authorities are testing tens of thousands of people, delaying dozens of concerts and exhibitions and shutting some public venues.

DW meets epidemiologist Hajo Zeeb


United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres has said the pandemic is not yet over, and that "scandalously unequal" vaccine distribution could see it prolonged further.

"The pandemic's most tragic toll has been on the health and lives of millions, with more than 446 million cases worldwide, more than 6 million deaths confirmed, and countless more grappling with worsening mental health," said UN chief Antonio Guterres in a statement marking the second anniversary of the global crisis.

"Thanks to unprecedented public health measures, and the extraordinarily rapid development and deployment of vaccines, many parts of the world are bringing the pandemic under control," he said. "But it would be a grave mistake to think the pandemic is over."

While the "distribution of vaccines remains scandalously unequal," and while 1.5 billion doses of vaccine are produced each month, Guterres noted that "nearly three billion people are still waiting for their first shot."

rc/msh (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)