Tight restrictions planned for unjabbed Germans to avert new Covid wave

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<span>Photograph: Sascha Steinbach/EPA</span>
Photograph: Sascha Steinbach/EPA

Germany’s health minister is planning to introduce sweeping measures next month that could considerably restrict the lives of people who do not get a coronavirus vaccine, according to widespread reports.

Jens Spahn has warned parliament and leaders of the 16 states that the tighter restrictions are necessary to avoid a new and dangerous wave of infections in the coming months, in a report seen by a large number of German media outlets.

The proposed so-called 3G rules would allow only those who had been vaccinated, tested or had recovered from an infection access to many facilities. Restaurants, hotels, hairdressers, sport facilities and large gatherings, both outside and in, are among those he has listed as places that would be out of bounds to those who did not fulfil the criteria.

Jens Spahn
Jens Spahn is a supporter of the ‘3G’ rule, which refers (in German) to those who have been vaccinated against, tested negative for or recovered from Covid. Photograph: Action Press/Rex/Shutterstock

3G refers to the German words geimpft (vaccinated), gestestet (tested) and genesen (recovered). The concept has long been in the public domain and already applies to some areas of life, such as air travel and hotel stays.

“Regardless of the incidence rate, from the beginning or the middle of September, participation in particular events across Germany will only be possible if the 3G rules are kept,” the health minister is quoted as saying by those who have seen the report.

In case of the coronavirus incidence rate rising to a dangerous level that might overwhelm the health system, the government would reserve the right to shift the rules to 2G, meaning only those who had been vaccinated or had recovered would be unrestricted, according to those who have read the health minister’s plans. In that case, a test would no longer be considered a valid safeguard.

In addition, Spahn has called for people undergoing PCR tests, which are currently available for free, to be charged for them from the middle of October.

It is believed exceptions to the rule would apply to the estimated up to 13 million Germans who are unable to get a vaccine, including those under 12 years old, some pregnant women, people with allergies and other risk groups.

German corona cases

Spahn’s proposals, which would be among the strictest measures in Europe, have yet to be voted on in cabinet, but they are reported to have the approval of most of his colleagues. One exception is the justice minister who has expressed her doubts that some of them would be legally workable. They are to be discussed in full next week, when German leaders meet.

In Italy, similar restrictions on unvaccinated citizens were approved last month in an attempt to control a resurgence of infections.

In France, the introduction of a mandatory coronavirus health pass for entry to many public spaces by the French government prompted thousands of people to protest across the country last Saturday.

Critics have accused Spahn of effectively introducing a vaccine mandate “by the back door”. Supporters of the health minister have said he is justified in doing so, and they believe that the need to pay for tests will persuade many to get vaccinated who have so far resisted doing so.

Related: Hundreds arrested in Berlin protests against Covid restrictions

By Wednesday morning, around 53% of the population had been fully vaccinated, while 62% (73% of adults) had received one dose. On Twitter, Spahn welcomed the new figures, but stressed: “it is not yet sufficient to ensure a safe autumn and winter”.

Returning holidaymakers are believed to be responsible for a steady rise in coronavirus cases over the past month, and a slowdown in the vaccine uptake means the goal of reaching a 75% vaccine protection level by the autumn now seems unrealistic.

On Monday, Spahn opened up the national vaccine programme to everyone from the age of 12.

Spahn has insisted that existing rules, such as social distancing, hand-washing, room airing and in particular mask-wearing, should be upheld regardless of a person’s vaccine status. Medical masks will have to be worn in closed spaces, including on public transport, until at least next spring.

The strongest opposition to the proposals has come from the pro-business FDP party, whose deputy leader, Wolfgang Kubicki, said the “goal and impact” of the government’s paper “amounts to the same as a vaccine mandate”, in particular if non-vaccinated people are excluded from social activities. He said that the government had promised not to make the vaccination obligatory but had in effect done so.

“This is the most brazen and horrific breach of promise by this government, which has repeatedly sworn black and blue that there would be no mandatory vaccination in Germany,” he said in an interview.

He also condemned the planned abolition of free tests, calling the move “extremely anti-social … it is merely a way of putting pressure on people to force them to get a vaccine”.

Klaus Holetschek, chairman of the Conference of Health Ministers, welcomed the plans.

“Those who can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons … should not have to pay for the test, but free tests should not be available on a long-term basis for those who flatly refuse to get a vaccine or just can’t be bothered,” he said. He said he hoped that having to pay for a test would persuade many “to finally grapple with the idea of getting a vaccine” who had so far avoided doing so.

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