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New COVID rules in Germany

August 24, 2021

Anyone in Germany who has been vaccinated twice, has recovered from the illness or has a negative test result can now move around largely freely. This increases the pressure on those who have not yet been vaccinated.

Sign on shop entrance reading "access only in accordance with 3G rule"
3G — geimpft, getestet, genesen (vaccinated, tested, recovered) — is the requirement for anyone wishing to enter a German shop or restaurantImage: Bihlmayerfotografie/imago images

For a long time, people in Germany were confused by the COVID rules that varied from state to state. But starting this Monday anyone who wants to go to an indoor restaurant or cafe, to the movies or visit relatives in a hospital or nursing home must either be fully vaccinated or show proof they have recovered from COVID-19. 

From now on, things will be more complicated for those who have not yet been vaccinated. They need a negative COVID test, which cannot be older than 24 hours. Those who want to stay in a hotel and have not been vaccinated or have proof of having recovered from a COVID infection will have to take a new test every three days.

Sanctions for the Unvaccinated

A trip to a bakery  

But how is the new provision, called the "3G rule" in German — geimpft, genesen, getestet (vaccinated, recovered, tested) — being implemented? I tested it myself on Monday in a bakery in Berlin-Steglitz. There were only a few, mainly older customers in the Junge bakery. The saleswoman asked politely if she could see a test or a vaccination certificate. A glance at the EU digital certificate "compass" was enough for her.

The customers before and after me in line had also all been vaccinated or had a negative test result to show. Everyone seemed to have adjusted to the new situation. The bakery also asks customers to register with the Luca app, which is widely used in Germany for contact tracing. 

Even if the infection figures rise again, the government wants to prevent another lockdown at all costs. Especially since — unlike a year ago — 64% of people in Germany have now been vaccinated at least once and 59% are fully vaccinated according to Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) on Monday.

Last weekend, the two candidates for chancellor from the center-right Christian Democrats CDU and the center-left Social Democrats SPD, Armin Laschet and Olaf Scholz, made it clear that there would be no new lockdown — at least for the fully vaccinated and recovered — even if the infection figures are rising. The measures appear intended to encourage people to get vaccinated. 

Luca promises swift COVID track and trace

Vaccination rate still too low

According to virologists, a vaccination rate of 85% to 90%, depending on the age group, is required to achieve herd immunity. As word of the new "3G rules" has spread the pace of vaccination has picked up again. But the numbers required for herd immunity are still a long way off. 

At the same time, especially with the opening of schools after summer vacation and returning travelers, the coronavirus infection numbers are rising again. The number of new infections per 100,000 people in seven days — known as the incidence rate — rose on Monday to 56.4. That is far less than in the spring when the government pulled the "emergency brake" by implementing new restrictions at an incidence of 160. But it is also higher than a few weeks ago when the incidence hit single-digit values. In some cities — such as Leverkusen in North-Rhine Westphalia — the current figures are again around 200. People are getting vaccinated, but there is clearly a pandemic underway.

The end of free tests

The pressure to get vaccinated will intensify once again on October 11, when people will have to pay for the previously free rapid tests and the far safer PCR test. A PCR test costs between 35 and 50 euros ($41 to $59), but at airports, customers may pay up to 69€ when they need the test quickly.

Anyone who wants to participate in social life as an unvaccinated person in the future will have to dig deep into their pockets. The only exceptions are for pregnant women, small children, and people who cannot be vaccinated for other medical reasons. 

By putting the vaccinated and recovered here and the unvaccinated there the government wants to completely change COVID policy in Germany. The incidence value may be replaced as the most important instrument of the Infection Protection Act. It was valid for a long time and from an incidence of 50 and then of 100 or above restrictions of varying severity were ordered. But as a result of many people now being vaccinated, Spahn said it is no longer a meaningful instrument.

Those who are infected despite vaccination usually suffer only mild cases of the disease if they notice it all, and hardly burden the hospitals. In the future, the German government wants to make the hospitalization rate — rather than the official infection figure — the yardstick for deciding which measures to take on COVID policy. 

This article has been translated from German.

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Jens Thurau Jens Thurau is a senior political correspondent covering Germany's environment and climate policies.@JensThurau