Germany’s “Federal Emergency Brake” – Questions Answered

Courtesy Translation by Nadine Bower
U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden
April 26, 2021

When will the new Infection Protection Act apply?

The 4th Civil Protection Act, or so called “Federal Emergency Brake” law, was passed by the Cabinet on Apr. 13, 2021 and by the German Bundestag on Apr. 21, 2021. On Apr. 22, the Bundesrat dealt with this issue. The law entered into force on Apr. 23. Based on the incidences of the last three days, all counties and county-free cities then evaluate and publish which rules apply to them the next day. The law will therefore take effect for the first time on Apr. 24, 2021.

What will change?

Starting with a stable incidence of 100 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants within in the last 7 days in a county (the figures reported to the RKI are decisive), a uniform “emergency brake” applies. This means that if the incidence exceeds 100 on three consecutive days, the additional measures specified in the law will apply from the following day on. If the incidence rises above 165, schools and daycare centers close (no more classroom instruction), with the exception of emergency care. If the 7-day incidence falls below the value of 100 and 165 on five consecutive working days in the corresponding county or district-free city, the measures will be lifted again on the next day.

Where can I find the current incidence levels?

An overview of the incidences in the individual counties can be found here: https://www.rki.de/inzidenzen. Berlin and Hamburg are treated like districts. Berlin, for example, not the district incidence applies but the incidence of the entire urban area.

What applies if an incidence of 100 is reached?

  • Private meetings are allowed with no more than one person from another household. However, a maximum of five people are allowed to meet – children under the age of 14 belonging to the two households are excluded.
  • A curfew is in place from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Only in case of emergency, for official/job-related purposes or if you have to walk the dog, for example, you are allowed to leave the house. Between 10 p.m. and midnight, you’re also allowed to work out outside by yourself.
  • During the day, sports may only be practiced alone, as a pair or with one’s own household, not in a club or a team. This does not apply to professional athletes. Professional sports take place without spectators. Children are also excluded if they practice outside contactless in groups of a maximum of 5 children. Trainers may need to take a test beforehand.
  • In local and long-distance public transport, including taxis, there is an obligation to wear a protective mask (FFP2 or similar). In addition, the transport system should be occupied by a maximum of half of the regularly allowed number of passengers.
  • In addition, the Federal Government may adopt further measures, clarifications and exceptions by decree with the consent of the Bundestag and the Federal Council.

What can open, what must close in case of an incidence above 100?

  • Leisure facilities, saunas, solariums, gyms, theatres, operas, concert halls, etc. as well as stores must close.
  • Weekly markets where only food is sold, grocery stores, beverage markets, health food stores, baby markets, pharmacies, medical centers, drugstores, opticians, hearing aid care professionals, gas stations, newspaper sales outlets, bookshops, flower shops, animal supplies markets, feed markets and garden markets and wholesalers are allowed to open. They are only allowed to sell their usual assortment. Distances must be maintained and customers must wear a medical mask or an FFP2 mask or similar indoors.
  • It is also possible to use “Click&Collect” up to a seven-day incidence of 150 and with presentation of a negative test result of 24 hours including from “Click&Meet” offers.
  • The outdoor areas of zoos and botanical gardens are allowed to open with hygiene concepts. Visitors must have a negative test (except for children who have not yet reached the age of 6).
  • Gastronomic establishments may only sell items for consumption at locations other than at the establishment.
  • Overnight stays for tourist purposes are not allowed.
  • Workshops, post offices, banks and laundromats are allowed to open.
  • Services close to the body are prohibited, with the exception of medical, therapeutic, nursing or pastoral services. In addition, hairdressers and foot care workers are allowed to remain open. However, these may only open with protective masks (FFP2 or similar). Hairdressing and foot care visits are only possible with a negative test.

Are curfews a proportionate instrument for combating the pandemic?

With a 7-day incidence of more than 100, curfews are an important means of effectively curbing the infection rate. A large number of scientific studies support this finding. The curfew is limited only to the period during which the emergency brake applies and cannot be imposed purely as a precautionary measure.

Several courts have already confirmed that curfews are permissible. Curfews are not a limitation of one’s freedom, but rather restrict the use of public spaces during normal periods of rest and bedtime. Citizens are allowed to leave their homes for valid reasons.

Why is it not possible for parents and their children up to the age of 14 to visit their grandparents or to visit cohabiting couples in another household?

The coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 is transmitted primarily through the air. Alternating interpersonal gatherings increase the risk of contagion. Especially in the case of meetings in a private setting, there are often particular challenges in complying with sufficiently strict hygiene regulations on a permanent basis. It is therefore necessary that there will be a limit to meetings of a household with no more than one person. The regulation helps to interrupt infection chains effectively.
Children up to the age of 14 are not counted in so far as permitted meetings between adults are also possible in the presence of their respective children and social contacts should not be unduly restricted.

Does the law allow for opening strategies?

Yes, the law provides for opening strategies. The “emergency brake” goes into effect at a stable incidence of 100 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants in the last 7 days. If the 7-day incidence falls below the value of 100 for five consecutive days, the measures will go out of effect on the next day.

What applies to schools?

  • As long as classroom lessons are taking place, students and teachers must be tested twice a week. The federal states take care of the procurement and execution of the tests under their own responsibility.
  • Starting with a stable incidence (three days in a row) above 100, alternating lessons will be taught. The form of the alternating model (daily, weekly…) is decided by the individual German states or schools.
  • Starting with a stable incidence of 165, classroom instruction is prohibited in schools, vocational schools, universities, extracurricular adult education institutions and similar institutions. Day care facilities are closed. Individual states can organize emergency care.
  • Individual states may provide for exemptions from these rules for final classes and support schools.

Do the rules also apply to vaccinated people, people who have recovered from the virus and those who have been tested negatively?

The Federal Government will allow exemptions with the consent of the Bundestag and the Bundesrat. In particular, there may be special regulations for vaccinated, recovered or negatively tested persons.

Facilitation or exemptions already provided for or introduced in state laws for persons who are expected to be immunized against the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, should be effective until a federal ordinance is issued.

What applies in companies?

Employers must offer their employees home office for office work (or similar jobs) if there are no compelling operational reasons, and workers must accept this offer, provided that there are no conflicting reasons on their end.

Will churches remain open?

Meetings which serve the practice of religion (within the meaning of Article 4 of the German “Grundgesetz”) are still permitted. However, individual states may also require protective measures in these areas.

Why does the bill limit the number of participants at funerals to 30 people?

Restricting the number of participants in funerals as a measure of infection protection law is not a new measure, but is based on proven measures by the German states that have already imposed restrictions on this throughout the pandemic. It is also a relief from the general restrictions on contact. The mourners should, of course, continue to be able to commemorate the deceased in a dignified setting. At the same time, however, the considerable risks of infection due to a larger accumulation of people must be taken into account, especially in the context of a high incidence, and a fair balance must be found on all concerns in order not to further increase the infection. The rule takes account of those factors.

What if a federal state imposes stricter rules than the new nationwide emergency brake?

Then these stricter rules will apply in that state.

Who checks whether the rules are being followed?

Compliance with the measures under the Infection Protection Act is still monitored by the competent state authorities – the public order office, the health office, the police.

Why is this based on the incidence level and not on other factors?

The Federal Government is constantly looking not only at the incidence, but also at many other factors such as the R-value, the utilization of the intensive care units, the number of tests carried out, etc. However, the 7-day incidence is an early indicator of an increase of infection. The resulting strain on the health system and deaths only increases with considerable delay. The 7-day incidence averages daily fluctuations, it is published daily and is easy for everyone to understand.

Why were these incidence figures chosen and not others?

The Infection Protection Act already provides for special measures with an incidence of 35 or 50 at the regional level. If the number of infections continues to double, federal law must ensure that the numbers fall again through appropriate measures. Experience in recent months also shows that health departments can no longer guarantee contact tracking in the event of an incidence of more than 100. This threatens to spiral out of control. Therefore, comprehensive measures are needed to bring the infection situation back under control and to protect the health system from overload.

What can the German states decide about?

The federal “emergency brake” applies when a stable incidence of 100 is reached. Individual states continue to decide on measure for incidences below. In addition, the German states may provide for additional measures for incidence levels of more than 100.

Until when will the measures apply?

The measures of the so-called emergency brake will expire no later than June 30, 2021.

Source: https://www.bundesgesundheitsministerium.de/service/gesetze-und-verordnungen/guv-19-lp/4-bevschg-faq.html#c21101

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