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COVID: New restrictions for Germany's unvaccinated

September 22, 2021

For those who have chosen not to get vaccinated in Germany, life could become more expensive in the coming months. Quarantine compensation payments and free coronavirus tests are set to be scrapped soon.

RKI President Lothar Wieler and Jens Spahn
Health Minister Jens Spahn (r) has long been in favor of tough action to encourage more people to get vaccinatedImage: Wolfgang Kumm/dpa/picture alliance

German health authorities have decided on Wednesday that starting on November 1, the unvaccinated will not receive compensation for lost pay if coronavirus measures forced them to quarantine.

This will affect people who test positive for the virus and those returning from trips to countries designated "high risk" for COVID-19, which currently include the UK, Turkey, and parts of France.

Critics have said such rules would be equivalent to making COVID vaccinations mandatory, as many workers cannot afford to stay at home without pay.

a sign allowing all '3G' people to enter
For months everybody who was getestet, geimpft or genesen (tested, vaccinated, recovered) was treated equallyImage: Bihlmayerfotografie/imago images

The loss of earnings for all citizens who have to quarantine and cannot work because of a suspected or actual coronavirus infection has, until now, been paid for by the state.

Health Minister Jens Spahn defended the new move, saying: "Why should others pay for the fact that someone has decided not to be vaccinated?" He did stress that it is still the right of every citizen to choose not to get vaccinated; His center-right Christian Democrat party (CDU) has staunchly opposed compulsory vaccinations across the board.

"It is not about pressure, it is about fairness," he said in an interview ahead of the meeting with health ministers.

Plan could back-fire

But Karl Lauterbach, member of parliament and health expert with the center-left Social Democrats, warned that a plan that does not compensate people who have to quarantine means that they are simply less likely to go into quarantine. He told the Rheinische Post newspaper that it was unrealistic to imagine that someone with low income would pay for their own test and then quarantine and miss out on income without any recompense.

Of course there are exceptions to the ruling, Bavarian Health Minister Klaus Holetschek emphasized following the meeting.

"Anyone who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons is allowed a medical certificate to prove this," he said. "In addition, compensation will be available for citizens for whom no public vaccination recommendation has yet been given."

How do people in Germany feel about COVID-19 booster shots?

No more free testing

On October 11 free rapid coronavirus tests for every citizen will no longer be available in Germany. Only those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons will have access to free tests. Everyone else who has no symptoms will have to pay for them.

Unvaccinated people can therefore expect a price tag to access many indoor spaces that require proof of a current negative test result — for example, restaurants, theaters, and some workplaces. Up until now, those who are unvaccinated have been able to enjoy most of the same freedoms of those who have so-called vaccine passports, simply by allowing themselves to be tested for free.

After a slow start to the vaccination campaign, things sped up in late spring and summer. Almost 56 million Germans have had one dose of the vaccine, over 67% of the population, while 52.5 million, 63%, are fully vaccinated. After initially dividing the population into priority groups, the government made vaccines available to all citizens over 12 since early in the summer.

COVID-19 Special: Germany's vaccination 'action week'

End to pandemic in 2022?

Health Minister Spahn also said in an interview on Wednesday morning that he believes an end to the pandemic is in sight by early 2022.

"If no new virus variant emerges against which vaccination does not protect, which is very unlikely, then we will have overcome the pandemic in the spring and can return to normality," Spahn told the Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper.

He stressed that vaccination is "the safer way" to achieve this, but herd immunity through contagion could also be the path to this goal.

In the meantime, warnings have also been voiced regarding children under 12, who are still unable to be vaccinated in Germany. Although COVID vaccinations may be possible for children under the age of 12 from 2022, it's not clear yet if they will get a recommendation from Germany's vaccination authority, the STIKO.

While you're here: Every Tuesday, DW editors round up what is happening in German politics and society, with an eye toward understanding this year's elections and beyond. You can sign up here for the weekly email newsletter Berlin Briefing, to stay on top of developments as Germany enters the post-Merkel era.

Kommentarbild PROVISORISCH Elliot Douglas
Elliot Douglas Elliot Douglas is a video, audio and online journalist based in Berlin.