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AFP
May 5, 2021

Germany to ease virus curbs for vaccinated people

World

AFP
May 5, 2021

BERLIN: People who have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 will no longer have to abide by curfews and contact restrictions in Germany under a draft law agreed by the cabinet on Tuesday.

The law, which would also apply to people who have recovered from Covid-19, must still be signed off by parliament but could come into force as early as this week, Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht said.

There must be a "good reason" for any restrictions on public life, Lambrecht said. "As soon as this reason ceases to exist... these restrictions should then no longer be in place," she said. Under national measures introduced in April, areas of Germany with an incidence rate of more than 100 new infections per 100,000 people over the last seven days must introduce overnight curfews and people may only meet with one other person from another household during the day.

But people who have been vaccinated, or who have recovered from Covid and therefore have natural immunity, should in future be exempt from these rules, Lambrecht said. The draft law seen by AFP would also exempt vaccinated and recovered people from quarantine rules for people returning from abroad, even from areas deemed high risk.

Areas of Germany with incidence rates under 100 are currently allowed to open shops, restaurants, cinemas and other facilities, but only to people who can provide a negative test. Under the new regulations, vaccinated and recovered people would also be exempt from this requirement.

Some German states, including Berlin and Bavaria, have already announced plans to scrap the negative test requirement for vaccinated people when they go shopping or visit the hairdresser. The Bavarian cabinet on Tuesday also signed off a plan to allow hotels, holiday homes and campsites to open in regions with low incidence rates from May 21.

However, Bavaria’s iconic Oktoberfest beer festival, which usually attracts millions annually in September and October, will be cancelled this year for the second year running. Germany has been in some form of virus shutdown since November, with numbers of new infections remaining consistently high amid an initially sluggish vaccination campaign.

But the campaign has since picked up pace, with more than a million jabs issued in one day last week, and new infection numbers have started to come down. The Robert Koch Institute health agency recorded 7,534 new infections in the past 24 hours on Tuesday and 315 deaths, with a national incidence rate of 141.4.

But despite these successes, critics say it is too soon to be lifting restrictions. Ute Teichert, the head of the Federal Association of German Public Health Officers, said it was "imperative that vaccinated people continue to be tested".

"Without comprehensive testing, we will lose sight of the incidence of infections -- especially with regard to virus variants," she told the Funke media group on Tuesday. MP and epidemiologist Karl Lauterbach said it was reasonable to lift some restrictions for vaccinated people, but restaurants, bars and other facilities should not be reopened just for them.

"We must not make the mistake of jeopardising the successes achieved by the national ‘emergency brake’," he warned, referring to the national restrictive measures introduced in April. Leaders in Europe, meanwhile, were looking to take further steps towards recovery with a proposal to revive international travel and tourism as early as next month.

The European Commission proposed Monday that travellers who are fully vaccinated with EU-approved shots or those coming from countries where Covid-19 is under control should be allowed to enter the bloc. The EU has so far approved the Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca vaccines.

But in a sign that the pandemic is not yet over in Europe, Germany cancelled its world-famous Oktoberfest beer festival for a second year running. Americans are among those eyeing possible European vacations this summer, with more than 100 million people in the United States now fully vaccinated. US media reported Monday that authorities were expected to authorise the Pfizer shot for children aged 12 and up.

The successful drive has allowed authorities in many parts of the world’s biggest economy to start relaxing curbs, including New York and Florida. And in China, where the virus first emerged in 2019, millions of tourists have flocked to domestic tourist attractions with the country’s outbreak largely under control.

Beijing’s historic alleyways were packed with camera-wielding visitors Tuesday, after out-of-towners also mobbed popular sites in Shanghai over the weekend.But in hard-hit Brazil, vaccine shortages have forced several large cities to suspend administering second doses of the Chinese-developed CoronaVac shot.

Covid-19 has claimed more than 400,000 lives in Brazil -- second only to the United States. Warning about the global inequality in access to Covid-19 supplies, the WHO said on Monday that rich countries must step up their funding for vaccines, tests and treatments in poorer nations if the pandemic is to be brought to an end.

"We will only solve the vaccine crisis with the leadership of these countries," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, urging decisive action at the G7 summit in June.As Canada’s vaccination campaign ramps up, people at higher risk of transmitting Covid-19 often lack the resources to navigate labyrinthine booking systems or the documentation that would ease their path to inoculation.

Those without provincial health insurance, such as refugee claimants or undocumented workers, often perform front-line jobs or live in neighbourhoods that put them at high risk of infection. Immunizing this population is critical to tackling Canada’s crushing third-wave of the pandemic, epidemiologists said.