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COVID restrictions lifted in several German states

October 1, 2021

Occupancy caps have been lifted on large stadium events and clubs have reopened without masks or social distancing. However, health experts warn cases could again climb as more people move indoors during colder months.

Clubbers dance in a darkened dance club with blue and purple lights
Clubbers in multiple states will no longer have to maintain minimum distance or wear masks indoorsImage: Sophia Kembowski/dpa/picture alliance

The German states of North Rhine-Westphalia, Bavaria and Saarland are lifting most of their remaining coronavirus-related restrictions on Friday.

Officials are still concerned by the impacts of the pandemic and have urged citizens to continue to take precautions. However, officials said new infections are low enough for restrictions to be lifted.

"The pandemic is not over yet and we will have to monitor further developments very closely," said North Rhine-Westphalia Health Minister Karl-Josef Laumann.

"But the current number of infections and the progress made with vaccinations enable us to take further steps toward normalcy. At the same time, I appeal to citizens to continue to deal responsibly with the freedoms they have regained," he added. 

North Rhine-Westphalia reopens big events 

In the most populous state of North Rhine-Westphalia, masks will no longer be compulsory in outdoor public spaces. However, they are still formally recommended.

A cap on the number of people allowed to attend soccer matches, stadiums and concerts will also be lifted in the state. Previously, events could only host up to 25,000 people, while stadiums were permitted only 50% of their seating capacity.

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Additionally, in places where the more expensive and time-consuming PCR tests had been required, such as clubs, rapid antigen tests will now be accepted as well. However, those tests must be no more than six hours old.

PCR tests typically cost around €70-90 ($81-104) and can take one or two days to process, while rapid tests offer results within minutes and cost significantly less.

Bavarian nightlife reopens

Meanwhile, clubs, discos and brothels will open again in the southern state of Bavaria, following a year and a half of closures. Bavaria was known for having some of the most severe restrictions on movement in Germany during the pandemic. 

From Friday on, the "3G rule" will apply in clubs, discos and brothels, meaning that those going to clubs will have to either be tested, vaccinated or have proof of recovery from COVID.

Employees in establishments with customer contact will also have to take PCR tests at least twice a week if they are unvaccinated. Bavaria additionally lifted a ban on public festivals, paving the way for Christmas markets to take place again this year

Additionally, mask requirements will be lifted in schools.

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Saarland removes most restrictions 

Dancing in clubs will also be possible again in the small western state of Saarland. Similar to the Bavarian rules, clubbers will no longer have to wear a mask in closed rooms, as the 3G rule is applied. Maintaining minimum distance will no longer be a requirement, but rather a recommendation.

With what the state government calls the "Saarland Model Plus," officials say that they are now beginning to rely on the common sense of their citizens. The step is "a signal for more personal responsibility," said Saarland's Deputy Minister President Anke Rehlinger.

University classroom lectures will also now be possible without masks or minimum distance. However, Saarland's loosening of restrictions is on a provisional basis, and is subject to change after 14 days. 

Meanwhile, health expert Karl Lauterbach of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) has warned of another wave of the virus in fall and winter.

"Thirty-percent of people under 60 are still unvaccinated. We underestimate this enormous number.  It is too high to prevent an increase in the number of infections," Lauterbach told the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger newspaper on Friday.

"The virus will continue to spread in the cold season, when life shifts back into enclosed spaces," he said.

lc/wmr (dpa,AFP)