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German health minister hints at stricter winter COVID rules

June 17, 2022

Karl Lauterbach recommended the voluntary wearing of masks indoors and indicated stricter rules could return. Meanwhile, research suggests those who had the earliest version of omicron may be vulnerable to reinfection.

Shoppers in Dresden with a sign thanking shoppers for wearing face masks
Germans had to wear masks in indoor spaces until earlier this yearImage: Robert Michael/dpa-Zentralbild/picture alliance

Germany's health minister on Friday recommended that Germans should still wear masks in indoor public places, although this would be on a voluntary basis for the time being.

However, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said the country should prepare again for stricter coronavirus rules as the winter months approach.

What exactly did he say?

Lauterbach said the country would need to adopt new rules for the winter period, likening it to adopting "winter tires" instead of summer ones. 

This reference is to a law that requires motorists to drive with special winter tires over the period from October to Easter. The move came in response to a report by on the wesbite of Germany's Welt am Sonntag newspaper. It said the government was considering a rule that would make indoor mask-wearing in public places mandatory over the same period.

And while he conceded that current data on infections did not justify making mask use a legal requirement at present, Lauterbach — himself a trained epidemiologist — said it was sensible to continue to wear masks indoors in the meantime.

"This must be a norm," he said.

Coronavirus cases in Germany on the rise

Before coronavirus regulations were relaxed in Germany earlier this year, it was mandatory to wear maks in indoor public places such as supermarkets. People using public transport are still required by law to cover their mouth and nose.

No panic, but some caution

Germany is currently experiencing an expected "summer wave" of coronavirus infections.

Lauterbach said that although there is no need to panic, he pointed out that the virus still posed a deadly risk for some, also carrying with it the danger of long COVID for the wider population.

"We have the situation well under control right now but not solved. We don't need to panic about the summer surge."

The minister said that experts are less concerned than they might be because the dominant omicron variant usually runs a less-harmful course than for example the delta strain. Many in Germany have also been vaccinated or have recovered from the BA.2 virus type, meaning they are relatively well protected.

Nevertheless, those infected with the earliest version of omicron may still be vulnerable to reinfection with later versions of the variant, even if they have been vaccinated and boosted, new findings, which were published in weekly international journal Nature, suggested on Friday.

Germany has recently been reporting between 50 and 130 coronavirus-related deaths per day.

Meanwhile, some 80% of people over 60, deemed still vulnerable, have not received a second booster shot.

Lauterbach urged them, along with people who have a high level of contact with other individuals, to do so.

COVID-19 and monkeypox: Similar but different

Action list ahead of colder months

The minister highlighted seven measures the government would take to prepare for the upcoming winter months. These were:

  • Preparation for an immunization campaign with three different vaccines available
  • Revising the provision of free coronavirus tests for citizens and residents
  • Improving the supply and targeting of treatments shown to be effective against COVID infections
  • Improving hygiene arrangements in places where vulnerable people live, such as nursing homes
  • Provision of more up-to-date electronic data on free intensive care beds
  • Revising hygiene and contact measures in schools and nurseries to reduce the need for closures
  • A revision of Germany's Infection Protection Act well in advance of its expiry on September 23

German municipal leaders have urged the government to contain the summer wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

Markus Lewe, head of the Association of German Cities, told the newspapers of the Funke media group that a new Infection Protection Act was needed before parliament broke up for the summer.

He said it was becoming clear that current legal measures were not sufficient. "The coronavirus pandemic must not keep taking us by surprise," he said.

In its latest figures, Germany's Robert Koch Institute for disease control on Friday said the incidence rate for the past seven days was was at 427.8. This was lower than for the previous day (480), but significantly higher than last Friday's seven-day figure of 318.7.

ar, rc/aw, jsi (dpa, epd, Reuters, AP)