Germany eases COVID curbs, will lift more rules in spring

People sit after being vaccinated against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the Bavarian State Opera House in Munich, Germany, February 10, 2022. REUTERS/Michaela Rehle

BERLIN, Feb 16 (Reuters) - 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 said on Wednesday, but he warned that the pandemic was not over yet.

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.

"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.

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On Wednesday, Germany reported 219,972 new daily coronavirus cases, down 6% compared to 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 in coming days. Checks at non-essential stores for a proof of vaccination or a negative test result will end but masks will still be required.

In the second phase starting on March 4, the maximum permitted size for outdoor events will increase to 25,000 people and night clubs 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 transportation will remain in place beyond March 19.

Scholz said optimism about the COVID-19 situation did not mean that the pandemic was over as new variants and a worsening situation could still be expected in autumn and winter, adding that a general vaccine mandate was still necessary.

"We may not get sloppy with all the optimism and confidence we're seeing here. That's why you have to say clearly that the pandemic is not over yet," Scholz added.

Germany has been slower in easing restrictions than some other European countries such as Denmark, Switzerland and Austria, which announced on Wednesday that it was lifting most COVID-19 restrictions by March 5. read more Switzerland will lift most pandemic restrictions from midnight on Wednesday, the government said. read more

German health minister Karl Lauterbach said the country could not relax restrictions too quickly, since Germany has a lower vaccination rate than some of its neighbours.

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Reporting by Riham Alkousaa; Editing by Grant McCool and Lisa Shumaker

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