Germany, Austria and Switzerland to ease COVID restrictions

The three-step plan includes lifting curbs on private indoor meetings for those vaccinated and scraping of vaccine passports at non-essential stores.

German federal police officers check passengers arriving from Palma de Mallorca
German federal police officers check passengers arriving from Palma de Mallorca for a negative COVID test [File: Michael Probst/AP Photo]

Germany will ease COVID-19 restrictions as a wave of infections from the Omicron coronavirus variant seems to have passed its peak, Chancellor Olaf Scholz has said.

After a meeting with the heads of the federal states earlier on Wednesday, Scholz said Germany was ready to look forward with more confidence regarding COVID-19. He, however, warned that the pandemic was not over yet.

“After these long two years, we deserve that things somehow improve again and it looks a bit like that’s exactly what we have in front of us,” Scholz told reporters after the meeting.

Later in a tweet, Scholz said that while the number of infections was high, it was “no longer increasing”.

“We can now withdraw the restrictions step by step, but we should continue to be careful,” he said.

On Wednesday, Germany reported 219,972 new daily coronavirus cases, down 6 percent compared with the same day last week. The seven-day infection incidence per 100,000 people also dropped to 1,401 from 1,438 on Tuesday.

In a three-stage plan, the government agreed to lift restrictions on private indoor meetings for those vaccinated or recovered from the virus within days. Checks at non-essential stores for the proof of vaccination or a negative test result will end, but masks will still be required.

A COVID-19 patient gets treatment at a hospital in northwest Germany
An intubated COVID-19 patient gets treatment at the intensive care unit at the Westerstede Clinical Center, a military-civilian hospital in Westerstede, northwest Germany [File: Martin Meissner/AP Photo]

In the second phase starting on March 4, the maximum permitted size for outdoor events will increase to 25,000 people and nightclubs will reopen for those who have received three vaccine doses or those with two doses of vaccine plus a negative COVID test.

Unvaccinated Germans will be allowed into restaurants with a negative test from March 4, the draft showed.

All major restrictions, including requirements to work from home, will expire on March 20, but a requirement to keep distance and to wear masks indoors and on public transport will remain in place beyond March 19.

Switzerland, Austria lift measures

Switzerland and Austria also announced they will scrap almost all of their COVID-19 restrictions despite the virus still circulating strongly.

The Swiss government said the conditions were right for a “rapid normalisation” of life nationwide.

From Thursday, the only remaining coronavirus requirements in Switzerland will be the obligation to self-isolate for five days after a positive test and to wear masks on public transport and in healthcare institutions. However, those rules will expire at the end of March at the latest.

A woman holds a banner during a protest against a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) law
A woman holds a banner during a protest against a coronavirus [or COVID restrictions?] in Bern, Switzerland [File: Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters]

“The Federal Council took the decision to lift the majority of measures in place to contain the coronavirus pandemic,” the government said in a statement.

“Masks and Covid certificates will no longer be required to enter shops, restaurants, cultural venues and other public settings and events.

“The requirement to wear masks in the workplace and the recommendation to work from home will also end.”

Meanwhile, Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer said his government would drop most measures from March 5.

Only mask-wearing in the essentials shops and on public transport will remain compulsory along with the entry restrictions at hospitals and other places with vulnerable groups, he added.

“The outlook shows us that together we can cautiously and prudently but with determination take back the freedom that the virus took,” Nehammer told reporters.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies