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Germany heads to summer with few COVID-19 rules

April 1, 2022

As of April 1, all that remains of pandemic restrictions is "basic protection" for most of Germany. That is despite high infection numbers and a comparatively low vaccination rate.

A surgical mask lies discarded on the ground against the Frankfurt skyline
Masks are off for many Germans as of April 1Image: Florian Gaul/greatif/picture alliance

Dirk Paessler has been modeling the COVID-19 pandemic almost since the beginning. His forecasts have often been spot on. Now, he says, no one can really say how things will develop from here.

Starting Friday, a number of rules and restrictions went away in much of Germany. That means no more masks in most shops, and no more proof of vaccination or day-of test in restaurants. Though some public transportation systems, individual businesses and institutions will keep mask requirements in place, the move to drop the majority of mandates tracks with many of Germany's neighbors.

The big difference: infections. Most parts of Spain, for example, have a seven-day incidence rate of below 300 per 100,000 people. In Germany, it can be more than 2,000. That translates into the highest confirmed numbers, and the "highest unknown numbers," of the entire pandemic, Paessler told DW.

The danger of new variants

Germany also hasn't undertaken certain surveillance measures, such as the comprehensive wastewater monitoring that the United Kingdom does as a sort of early-warning system.

"We just want to hope that another, more infectious variant doesn't emerge," Paessler said. "No one would notice until the ICUs were full again."

With rules going away without more precise data, Germany may be walking into the next stage of the pandemic blind. Infections, especially of the Omicron variant, may be for the most part mild, but it still means huge numbers of people out of work at the same time, disturbing the economy and life in general.

Vaccine gap

Germany's vaccination rate is also lagging. That is especially so for the 60-plus age group, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). Almost 90% of people over 60 in Germany had basic immunization by the middle of February. In Spain and Portugal, for example, it is just about everyone in that subset. That is thanks in part to direct communication and fixed vaccination appointments, which Germany has not done as well with.

The rate of Germans who had received at least one dose of a vaccine climbed just two percentage points from the start of the year through the end of February, according to Germany's disease prevention and public health agency, the Robert Koch Institute. The vaccine gap leaves people and places vulnerable to outbreaks, especially in the colder months when there are more indoor gatherings, where the airborne virus spreads with little difficulty. It also means the virus can evolve more easily.

Vaccine mandate in doubt

One solution that has been discussed for months is a general vaccine mandate. However, there is little support for it. Although the three-party governing coalition put forward a bill in February, enough of their own lawmakers oppose it that getting it passed is unlikely.

"Germany could have avoided the largest risks at a small price," Paessler said. He's certain that the pandemic is not finished with us yet — and the restrictions that are going away this weekend will be back with us soon enough.

"Without rules, we won't make it through next fall," he added.

This article was translated from German.

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