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‘With caution – more freedom’: Germany’s first region swaps some lockdown restrictions for more rigorous testing

‘With caution – more freedom’: Germany’s first region swaps some lockdown restrictions for more rigorous testing
Germany’s western region of Saarland has relaxed some of its Covid-19 lockdown rules in exchange for people getting tested more often. Officials hope the new model will bring Germany more freedom and help it beat the virus.

The new approach – dubbed ‘the Saarland model’ – relies on replacing some lockdown measures with heavier testing requirements.

Starting from Tuesday, outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people are allowed if each person tests negative for the coronavirus at least 24 hours before the event, and local authorities are notified in advance.

A rapid-negative Covid-19 test is also required for playing sports, visiting gyms, cinemas and theaters, as well as for dining outdoors in groups of up to 10 people per table if the place is booked in advance.

The tests must be certified by test centers, pharmacies, schools, companies or authorities. Alternatively, a person can get a rapid test under supervision.

Officials warned they will roll back the partial reopening should the number of new infections per 100,000 people rise above 100.

Saarland Minister-President Tobias Hans said last week that the model will help the Saarland “contain the pandemic just as effectively and with fewer restrictions on fundamental rights,” adding that the virus will not go undetected.

Hans said that the change can become “a recipe for success” in fighting pandemics if everyone abides by the rules.

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The state’s economy minister Anke Rehlinger also noted that the model will entirely depend on people upholding their public responsibility. “With caution, we are creating more freedom. It’s up to all of us if it holds up,” she said.

It is unclear if the Saarland model can be applied to other regions. Saarland is the smallest among 16 German states apart from the cities of Berlin, Hamburg and Bremen, and is the second-smallest in terms of population. At the same time, the state has the highest nationwide rate of people who received at least one dose of the vaccine – 14.6% - according to the Robert Koch Institute.

On Sunday, German Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn promised that the fully vaccinated will have more freedom under the lockdown because the risk of them spreading infection was found to be very low. “Anyone who has been fully vaccinated can in future be treated like someone who has tested negative,” Spahn said.

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