BERLIN (AP) — Germany’s governing coalition is arguing over whether remaining COVID-19 restrictions should be dropped after one of the country’s top virologists was quoted as saying that the pandemic is over.
Germany has scrapped the bulk of restrictions imposed at the height of the pandemic but, unlike other European countries, still requires mask-wearing on long-distance trains and buses. Masks are also mandatory in doctors’ practices, while masks and negative tests are still required to enter hospitals and nursing homes.
Rules for local transport are a matter for Germany’s 16 state governments, and some have dropped mask mandates. Some also have scrapped rules requiring infected people to isolate at home.
Comments by Christian Drosten, a professor of virology at Berlin’s Charite hospital, to the daily Tagesspiegel’s Tuesday edition prompted a renewed argument over whether the remaining rules are justified.
“We are experiencing the first endemic wave with SARS-COV 2 this winter; my assessment is that, with this, the pandemic is over,” he was quoted as saying. He added that the only reservation about that would be a major new mutation, “but I don’t expect that anymore at the moment either.”
Justice Minister Marco Buschmann said Drosten has been one of the most cautious scientists during the pandemic, and that “as a political consequence, we should end the last corona protection measures.” He said on Twitter that the law allows federal restrictions to be dropped before their scheduled end on April 7 if the situation is better than was expected in the fall — “and this is now the case.”
Buschmann’s Free Democrats, the smallest of three parties in Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s coalition, have long pressed for the fewest restrictions possible.
There was pushback from the other two, center-left governing parties. Health Minister Karl Lauterbach told German news agency dpa that “an immediate end to all measures would be reckless” and Drosten wasn’t calling for it.
Lauterbach said the most vulnerable, for example in nursing homes, still need protection, and pointed to the strain the health system is currently facing from various infections.
“Hospitals are full, the staff overloaded, excess mortality is high and winter isn’t over yet,” he said.