German Officials Resist Call to End Quarantine Requirement

Christian Beneker

August 11, 2022

During the surge in coronavirus infections this summer, the chief executive of the German National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians (KBV), Andreas Gassen, MD, called for the isolation and quarantine requirement to be lifted for people infected with the coronavirus. "We cannot hide from the virus forever. We have to return to normality. If you are ill, stay at home. If you feel healthy, go to work," explained Gassen in the German newspaper Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung. "This is how we treat other infectious diseases like the flu."

In fact, one must assume that there are hundreds of thousands of undetected infections every day. "But the infections almost always develop mildly." This means that the numerous infections are not the problem, but rather "that people who test positive, even without any symptoms, are staying at home for days on end, sent into isolation," says Gassen. "We are the last country in Europe to still be discussing a coronavirus state of emergency so nervously."

The end of isolation and quarantine requirements is proposed as a means of helping to prevent staff shortages in hospitals, among other places. There are ever more frequent reports of closed hospital wards and off-limits hospital beds because staff are missing due to the coronavirus, especially in nursing.

FDP Supports Gassen

Nevertheless, the official regulation in Germany at present is that people who are infected with coronavirus must isolate at home for 5 days. Healthcare professionals must be symptom-free for 48 hours and prove that they are coronavirus-negative with a rapid or polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test before they can return to work. For people who have been in contact with someone infected with coronavirus, a 5-day quarantine is strongly recommended. Gassen's comments therefore have been criticized sharply.

The Free Democratic Party (FDP), however, supports Gassen. The health-policy speaker for the FDP fraction of the Bundestag, Andrew Ullmann, MD, sees the quarantine requirement as an excessive intervention by the state. In the future, the requirement to quarantine should only be stipulated by a physician who issues the patient a sickness certificate, said Ullmann.

Opposition to Gassen

Federal Minister of Health Karl Lauterbach, MD (Social Democratic Party [SPD]), also has spoken out. "The infected must stay at home. Otherwise, not only will the number of cases rise even further, but the workplace itself will become a safety risk," he tweeted. "The sickness certificate should be provided over the phone."

The German Association of General Practitioners also reacted. Ulrich Weigeldt, chair of the association, told the newspaper Die Welt, "In my opinion, we should stick with the current, rational rules, in which the isolation period has already been reduced to 5 days. If you test positive, you should remain at home for a few days, even if you feel fine." Further infections should be avoided, particularly for healthcare professionals.

The Marburger Bund (MB) trade union in Lower Saxony criticized Gassen's proposal as "unrealistic." Removing the isolation requirement would have "catastrophic consequences," explained the two chairs of the MB in Lower Saxony, Hans Martin Wollenberg and Andreas Hammerschmidt. "It cannot be a solution for people to go to work even though they are infectious. A SARS-CoV-2 infection remains a complex respiratory disease. Adhering to the isolation requirement is not just important to protect vulnerable groups of patients, but also for continued employee protection!" The two chairs emphasized, "Our experience shows that many infected people are very likely to develop symptoms in the course of the disease."

Daniela Behrens (SPD) tweeted, "The chief medical representative is calling for the end of all coronavirus protection measures. He's wanted this before. A short time later, by the way, beds in intensive care were full. In Lower Saxony, we didn't listen to him, and we won't this time either. I doubt that the majority of physicians share his opinion."

Behrens is receiving support from her Minister President Stephan Weil. "A pandemic is not a private event," said Weil to the Editor Network Germany (RND). "Infected people who do not isolate can also infect others, even without having symptoms themselves, and endanger the health of others." In the workplace, they would expose other employees to an unnecessary risk. "Even a quick look in the clinics and at the death toll shows that there is currently no cause at all to discuss lifting the few remaining protective measures."

The FDP apparently stands alone in its support of Gassen's position. Health politician Saskia Weishaupt for the Greens made it clear for her fraction, "Whoever has coronavirus must stay at home," according to the newspaper Der Spiegel. People should not be exposed to the danger of infection at their workplace.

The health-policy speaker for the Left Party in the Bundestag, Kathrin Vogler, dismissed Gassen's suggestion harshly. Gassen's suggestion is "trash," she said, according to Der Spiegel.

This article was translated from the Medscape German edition.

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