Germany is considering new plans to give extra rights and freedoms to people who have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
The proposed changes to the existing pandemic rules would involve lifting certain social contact and movement restrictions. Inoculated and recovered people will no longer need a negative test if they want to go shopping, to the hairdresser or to visit a botanical garden, according to examples laid out by the German justice ministry.
People who live in Germany would also no longer have to go into quarantine after traveling abroad, if fully inoculated, with a few regional exceptions.
The legislation now has to go through the lower and then the upper houses of parliament. The lower house — the Bundestag — will meet Thursday to discuss the proposals, but questions remain over how people will prove they’ve had the vaccine and whether the possible loosening of the rules is confusing, unsafe or unfair.
The legislation could come into force over the weekend.
Vaccinated people will also be allowed to meet in private without restrictions, according to the plan, which if voted through Germany’s parliament could come into effect as early as Saturday. But mask wearing and social distancing in public spaces will remain on the cards.
Following a rocky initial rollout of immunizations in the country, people are still clamoring for coveted vaccine slots. And while the speed of vaccinations has picked up, many are now desperate for liberties the new rules may provide. But the potential changes have been widely debated and disputed on several grounds in Germany.
Medical experts have said the move could risk reigniting the pandemic. “It would be fatal if those who have been vaccinated and those recovering [from the virus] would be exempt of all testing upon entry,” Ute Teichert, the chairwoman for the association of doctors in public health services (BVÖGD) told the Funke Mediengruppe, as quoted by CNN affiliate n-tv.
Others have also warned of the risks of opening up too fast. Karl Lauterbach, a public health expert and Social Democratic Party (SPD) politician, told the broadcaster Deutschlandfunk: “We cannot make the mistake, to now risk a fast, early setback … we are still far from herd immunity.”
The issue of enforcing those new rules has been questioned by German authorities. Jörg Radek, deputy national chairman of the country’s police union, told the German public broadcaster ARD: “I think first of all, we need a transparent regulation from which it is clear for whom these vaccinations documents should apply, and we then need a very clear possibility — which has to be carefully tested — that those documents are forgery-proof.”
The plans come amid falling numbers of coronavirus cases and deaths in Germany, and a ramped-up vaccination program in the country.
The Robert Koch Institute, the national agency for disease control and prevention, recorded 7,534 new cases on Tuesday, compared to 9,160 the day before, and 11,907 the previous Monday.
As of Tuesday, 8.3% of Germany’s overall population had been fully vaccinated. More than 29.5% of the population had received at least one dose, according to health ministry data.
While the possible loosening of restrictions has fanned a debate about unfair privileges, German Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht told n-tv that the state should not infringe upon the rights of those who have had their shots: “By getting vaccinated, those people now again have the possibility to live out their basic rights. I think it is solidarity to be happy for them,” she said.
German Health Minister Jens Spahn also voiced cautious optimism due to the success of Covid-19 vaccines so far. “The fact that we can — one year after the pandemic began — deal with how to return freedoms to those who are vaccinated, is due to the fact that vaccines were developed in record time,” he said.
Many in Europe are now looking ahead to the sunnier months and potential summer holidays ahead, so a loosening of the pandemic restrictions cannot come fast enough for many, and the travel industry as a whole.
Some federal German states will open up to tourism at the first opportunity. The southern state of Bavaria, which has a large tourism industry, has said it will welcome visitors as soon as its seven-day incidence-rate falls under 100 per 100,000 people in the districts wanting to welcome tourists.
While a domestic and maybe even international summer vacation may now indeed be on the cards for some Germans, the signs are less rosy for the Pentecost period at the end of May, often seen as a traditional kick-off into the German summer.
Thomas Bareiß, Federal Government Commissioner for Tourism and for SMEs, told the Bild newspaper that the Pentecost break “will again not happen in many holiday regions.”