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Germany drops voluntary COVID quarantine plan

April 6, 2022

German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said his announcement of scrapping obligatory isolation for people infected with COVID was a mistake and sent the wrong signal.

A portable coronavirus testing cabin set up in Berlin
Since the start of the pandemic, Germany has recorded more than 22 million COVID-19 infectionsImage: Abdulhamid Hosbas/AA/picture alliance

German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach on Wednesday reversed course on plans to end mandatory quarantine for most people who catch the coronavirus. 

Germany's quarantine rules had been 10 days for people who test positive, with the possibility to cut the period to seven days with a negative test.

Lauterbach had announced that starting May 1, obligatory isolation for those infected with COVID would be replaced with a five-day voluntary isolation, sparking sharp criticism. 

What did Lauterbach say?

Lauterbach wrote on Twitter early Wednesday that dropping obligatory isolation would have relieved local health offices of a burden, "but the signal is wrong and damaging."

"I made a mistake here," he said. 

"Corona is not a cold," Lauterbach added. "So there must continue to be isolation after infection. Ordered and supervised by health offices." 

Therefore, health offices should continue to issue isolation notices to people who test positive for the coronavirus. However, the period will be shortened to five days, Lauterbach told German public broadcaster ZDF.

Later on Wednesday, Lauterbach told reporters in Berlin: "I have withdrawn the proposal because the completely wrong impression would have arisen that either the pandemic is over or the virus has become significantly more harmless than was assumed in the past."

How have politicians reacted to Lauterbach's U-turn?

Lauterbach, an epidemiologist and longtime lawmaker with Chancellor Olaf Scholz's center-left Social Democratic Party, has been one of the most prominent voices urging caution and strict measures against the coronavirus in Germany. 

Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Health Minister Karl Lauterbach
Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Health Minister Karl Lauterbach Image: Lisi Niesner/Reuters/dpa /picture alliance

However, since becoming health minister in December, he has appeared to try to balance that approach as part of the political challenges of a diverse three-party coalition government. 

Friedrich Merz, leader of the opposition Christian Democratic Union (CDU), slammed what he called a "breathless" style of government "with decisions that don't last for 48 hours."

Meanwhile, Green Party parliamentary secretary Irene Mihalic welcomed Lauterbach's move. Mihalic said she finds it "commendable that he has corrected this mistake."

What is the COVID situation in Germany?

Germany has gradually eased some COVID-19 restrictions over the past month, including the requirement to wear masks in shops or schools.

COVID-19 infection levels are drifting downward from record-high levels, with 214,985 new infections reported on Wednesday — about 20% fewer than a week ago. 

German politicians have been discussing making COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for adults, but support for the idea has waned. Ahead of a vote likely to happen on Thursday, there appears to be agreement among lawmakers to pass a law mandating vaccination for anyone over 60.

What's behind vaccine skepticism in Germany?

fb/sms (AFP, AP, Reuters)