6. Measures in other sectors
6.1 Measures in other sectors
Many MEASURES IN OTHER SECTORS beyond the immediate scope of the health system are being taken to prevent further spread of the virus. This section contains information on many of these areas, including border and travel restrictions and economic and fiscal measures, among others.
On June 3, the federal government announced the agreement on a stimulus package of EUR 130 billion, which sees Germany taking on new debt to deal with the economic fallout of the pandemic. The package set outs a programme of 57 different measures designed to boost consumer spending, among other cut of a temporary VAT reduction, income support for families, grants for hart-hit SME’s, financial support for local governments, and subsidies/investment in green energy and digitalization (see sections below: economy and state aid).
On April 28, the Ministers of Education of the 16 federal states agreed on a general list of measures that all students be allowed to attend classes again on certain days or on a weekly basis before the summer holidays. However, regular lessons will not take place before the summer holidays. Concrete measures of school openings will be up to the federal states, but they will decide in consultation with the federal government. Details such as when instruction will begin, class sizes, class times and what hygienic and distancing policies will be put in place as well as writing of exams are to be decided.
To support schools and expand education options during the pandemic, the federal and state governments of Germany are making EUR 100 million available for digitisation efforts. The money will come from 2019’s Digital Pact for Schools (Digitalpakt Schule) and by 2024 will provide up to EUR 5 billion for developing online infrastructures. Setting up and expanding online learning platforms can both support teachers and help mitigate the loss of presence base lessons, according to the Minister of Education.
On May 13, the Federal Minister of the Interior decided that the temporary checks at the borders with France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and Austria will continue until 15 June 2020 on the basis of Articles 25 and 27 of the Schengen Borders Code, Regulation (EU) 2016/399. All cross-border traffic routes will be reopened. The Federal Police will conduct flexible, risk-based checks rather than the systematic inspections it has carried out up to now. In doing so, it will work closely with the relevant police forces of the neighbouring states. Travellers will still need a valid reason for entering Germany. More allowances will be made for travel for family-related and personal reasons. Checks at the border with Luxembourg will end at midnight on May 15.
As of May 16, Germany, Austria and Switzerland lift the travel restrictions that currently apply to unmarried couples in cross-border relationships and people with relatives or a second home in a neighbouring country. Previously only couples who were married, in registered partnerships or who had children together were allowed to travel to see each other under restrictions imposed in March due to the coronavirus pandemic. Restrictions are also lifted for those with a property, need to tend to allotments, or to maintain agricultural/hunting land/woodland and those caring for animals. People who want to cross the borders must complete a self-declaration form.
On May 20, new rules regarding the self-quarantine of two weeks after several days abroad apply: for persons entering Germany from EU countries, Schengen-associated countries or the UK the federal and state governments recommend quarantine if the country of origin has a high COVID-19 incidence (>50 cases/100,000 inhabitants in the past 7 days). Only people travelling from third countries (i.e. countries which are not European Union members or Schengen Associated Countries or the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) have to spend two weeks in self-quarantine. The obligation to self-quarantine will not apply if it has been determined that the number of infections in the third country in question is so low that individuals coming from there cannot generally be assumed to be carrying the virus. In mid-April, the federal and state governments agreed that everyone entering Germany after several days abroad would be ordered to remain in self-quarantine for two weeks.
However, each of Germany's 16 states can determine its own quarantine regulations. Currently, several German states have quarantine regulations in place for travelers from Sweden due to the rising number of cases.
On June 3, the Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs announced that Germany will lift its travel warning for European nations from June 15. The easing of travel restrictions applies to passport-free Schengen-area countries as well as the UK. Mid-March Germany introduced a warning against all foreign travel. This ban will be changed to individual travel guidelines for countries. However, the travel recommendations are no invitation to travel. Warnings could be reintroduced if new infections were to reach 50 per 100,000 people in a week in the country concerned.
On June 10, the German government extended travel warnings for 160 countries outside the European Union until the end of August. The decision to lift individual travel warnings will take into consideration infection rates, the capacities of the country’s health system, testing capacity, hygiene rules and reliability of data as criteria. The government agreed to lift travel warning for 31 European countries as of June 15, instead putting in travel guidelines informing tourists about the coronavirus situation in each country. The original warnings for around 200 countries went into place on March 17.
On June 26, federal and state governments decided to implement travel restrictions on residents from districts with high infection rates, such as the hotspots districts Guetersloh and Warendorf, in reaction to the recent outbreaks in both districts (see section 1.2) and the beginning of the holiday season in many states. Only persons who have been tested negatively within 48 hours before departure are allowed to stay overnight in tourist accommodations in other German districts.
From October 1, the ban on non-essential travel to countries outside the EU will be lifted and replaced with detailed travel advice for each country. The current blanket travel warning on nearly all of the 160 non-EU/Schengen countries will end on September 30. From October 1, warnings will be tailored to specific countries. However, as of October 1, travel warning can still be issued for countries that are considered risk areas.
On June 3, Germany’s governing coalition agreed on a EUR 130 billion stimulus package to help relaunch the country's economy. The federal government will finance EUR 120 billion of the overall package covering the years 2020 and 2021. The measures comprise:
- VAT reduction from 19% to 16% and cut of the reduced rate from 7% to 5% for six months, starting 1 July, to boost consumer spending
- financial incentives for buyers of electric and hybrid vehicles (premiums will be raised from EUR 3,000 to EUR 6,000 for a car that costs up to EUR 40,000) and expansion of existing programs to build charging stations and support battery cell production by EUR 2.5 billion
- creation of a EUR 25 billion fund for the months of June to August to help companies hard hit by the pandemic, particularly those in the hotel and hospitality sector (companies can get up to 80% of their fixed operating costs reimbursed if revenues had plunged by more than 70% compared to a year ago)
- financial support to keep social contributions below the 40% threshold of income with EUR 5.3 billion in 2020 and additional funds in 2021
- several tax-relief measures for companies such as an expansion of tax loss carry-forwards and degressive depreciation for investments (EUR 8 billion)
- support for apprentices will ensure that school leavers can start their vocational training and apprentices can properly complete their current training programmes. This measure will include bonus payments for small and medium-sized businesses
- creation of a EUR 50 billion “future package” of investment, with a focus on the transition to a greener economy, and research in areas such as artificial intelligence and quantum computing
On August 10, the Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (BMAS) published new occupational safety guidelines against infections with SARS-CoV-2. The guidelines contain advice on implementation measures for companies, hygiene and occupational medicine based on the current evidence. They are aimed at employers, safety specialists and occupational physicians. The measures include central technical aspects of infection protection such as ventilation and partitions and organizational measures such as the organization of working and break times as well as working from home. The guidelines further include personal measures, as well as advice on dealing with vulnerable groups.
Compliance with the measures ensures legally secure action, and supervisory authorities of the federal states receive a uniform basis for assessing the protective measures in the companies.
On May 20, the government agreed that the financial aid for parents who are unable to work due to childcare closures will be significantly expanded. Since March 30, parents can receive wage replacement up to six weeks if they have to look after children under the age of 12 because of childcare closures. The compensation due to loss of wage was extended for cohabiting parents up to ten weeks and for single parents up to 20 weeks given that kindergartens and schools will not reliably open to everyone in the following weeks. The payment amounts to 67% of post-tax salary with an upper limit of EUR 2,016 per month.
The stimulus package of EUR 130 billion, agreed on June 3, also includes a number of measures that provide financial support for families, households and municipalities during years 2020 and 2021:
- Parents will get a cash handout of EUR 300 per child (EUR 4.3 billion)
- Municipalities in debt are to receive financial aid from the federal government (EUR 10 billion)
- simplified access to basic income support for jobseekers (with no means-testing) will be extended until the end of 2020
- Lower renewable energy surcharge in 2020 and 2021 (EUR 11 billion)
- Financial support for state governments to improve and expand kindergartens and other day-care facilities as well as full-time day schools (EUR 3 billion)
- Financial support for cultural and non-profit organisations to survive the virus-related closures of theatre, cinemas, operas and other institutions (EUR 1.9 billion)
On August 25, the leaders of Germany’s coalition government agreed to extend the short-time work allowance scheme (Kurzarbeitergeld) as well as to give parents more financial relief and flexibility at work if their children are ill. Companies that apply before December 31, 2020 will be able to rely on Kurzarbeitergeld for a total of 24 months, instead of the regular 12. The allowance paid to employees is to be further increased to 70 and 77% from the fourth month and to 80 and 87% from the seventh month, and these rules are to be extended until December 31, 2021. Additionally, those who have to care for relatives or have to reorganize care due to COVID-19 can take up to 20 working days off in 2020. The care support allowance can also be taken up to 20 working days. Couples will each receive child health benefits for an five additional days and single parents for an additional ten days, applying to those with children under twelve years of age.
As of March 16, the Federal Government has temporarily restricted cross-border traffic from France, Austria, Luxembourg, Switzerland and Denmark and implemented temporary border controls.
Certain counties are locked down due to high infection rates which result from different events such as large social gatherings during which many people were infected. The local public health offices are authorized to decide on a lock down in order to protect local population and contain the spread of the virus.
End of March, the federal state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania issued entry restrictions for citizens with residency in other federal states, except for purposes of work or business. At this stage, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania has the lowest infection rate of COVID-19 of Germany. On April 2, the government of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania announced that travels within the federal state are prohibited over Easter holidays. Schleswig Holstein, which is the northernmost of the 16 states, and Saxony-Anhalt also issued entry restrictions for citizens with residency in other federal states.
On March 17, the Federal Government implemented entry restrictions for non-EU citizens and citizens of non-Schengen states to Germany by plane or ship. Citizens of EU countries and the United Kingdom, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland are permitted to travel through Germany. The same applies for foreigners holding a residence permit in one of these countries.
Entry remains possible for German citizens. Those who are not German citizens may enter Germany under the following conditions: (1) for work purposes or to carry out professional contractual services (including commuters, medical and health care workers, members of the European Parliament and accredited diplomats). In such cases, the need to cross the border for work must be proved by carrying appropriate documentation (e.g. work contract, project contract/documents, permit for frontier workers); (2) for other urgent reasons requiring entry (including medical treatment, the death of an immediate family member) depending on the individual circumstances. Entry for purposes of tourism is no longer allowed; (3) for persons returning to their home or legal residence in Germany; and (4) for transit through Germany to return to one’s home country if no other travel connection is possible.
As of March 25, the Federal Ministry of the Interior has ordered an entry ban for seasonal workers. The regulation applies to entry from all third countries and from most EU countries. This pandemic border closure was relaxed on April 2 to recruit 40,000 seasonal harvest workers in April and May.
In general, cross-border commuting and transport of goods are to continue with as little disruption as possible. Contrary to the general restrictions regarding entry to Germany eastern European caregivers are still allowed to enter Germany based on the EU COVID-19 Guidelines for border management measures to protect health and ensure the availability of goods and essential services 2020/C 86 I/01 to ensure sufficient workforce supply.
Regarding travel recommendations, Germany has warned its citizens against non-essential, touristic travels to other countries due to many recent travel restrictions in other countries. Travels within Germany are not official restrictions. However, the government recommends reducing the number of trips and to avoid public transport - where possible - to further reduce the risk of an infection.
On April 6, the German government announced new restrictions for travellers based on the Infection Protection Act (Art. 5 Section 2). This includes a mandatory two-week quarantine for German citizens, residents and EU nationals upon their return to Germany as of April 10. Travellers must reveal the identify (including date of birth), route of travel, and contact details to the responsible authorities.
Non-German citizens, including EU and foreign nationals, are allowed to enter Germany under certain conditions which are:
• persons returning to their home or legal residence in Germany
• work purposes or to carry out professional contractual services, such as commuters or diplomats
• urgent reasons requiring entry," such as medical treatment
• transit through Germany to return to one's home country if no other travel connection is possible.
Authorities will allow for cross-border commuting and transport of goods. Entry into Germany for purposes of tourism is strictly prohibited.
On April 29, German ministers have agreed to extend the global travel warning until at least June 14 to limit the spread of the coronavirus and prevent German tourists once again becoming stranded overseas.
On March 25, the German parliament approved the emergency Coronavirus budget aimed at bolstering the country's economic and medical defenses against the coronavirus. The government announced on March 23 plans to suspend Germany's so-called debt brake. On Friday March 27, the additional budget was approved by the upper house of Parliament, the Bundesrat. The new spending plans foresee an extra EUR 156 billion in new government debt this year, around EUR 100 billion more than would have been permitted under Germany's notorious debt ceiling that limits annual borrowing. The additional budget increases the spending power of the Health Ministry by more than EUR 3 billion, or around 20%, in 2020. A total of EUR 50 billion of the additional budget has been set aside for rapid support for the self-employed and the smallest businesses with 10 or fewer employees. The self-employed and businesses with five or fewer employees will be eligible for direct loans from the government of up to EUR 9,000 over a three-month period; firms with between five and 10 employees can apply for EUR 15,000.
In addition, an economic stabilization fund will be established that is able to take on the liabilities for companies that require bridging loans, able to issue guarantees for up to EUR 400 billion in borrowing. Another EUR 100 billion will be set aside for a fund designed to strengthen the equity base of businesses (recapitalization). Tax rules are also being altered to allow companies to calculate what they pay later in the year, rather than paying their early instalments based on projected earnings as usual. Insolvency regulations will also be temporarily softened.
On April 7, the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, in coordination with the Federal Ministry of Health, passed an ordinance that provides for exceptions to the Working Hours Act in the wake of the COVID 19 pandemic. The ordinance was passed based on the Act for Protecting the Public (Health) in an Epidemic Situation of National Importance which grants the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs the right to issue such an ordinance in agreement with the Ministry of Health (see Section 5. Governance). The exceptions concern in particular that longer working hours (12 instead of 10 hours), shorter rest periods between two working days (nine instead of 11 hours) and the employment of workers on Sundays and public holidays for certain activities will temporarily be permitted to the end of June. This extension of working time aims to ensure that the maintenance of public safety and order, health and nursing care, services of general interest and the supply of the population with existential goods will be maintained in the current situation of the COVID-19 crisis.
On April 16, the Minister of Labour and Social Affairs presented the occupational safety standards which are recommended during the pandemic. The clear and binding nationwide standards are to protect employees from infection with the coronavirus within the world of work. The standards provide guidance for COVID safety protocol for employers. The standards comprise among others that safety distance of at least 1.5 meters should always be maintained and that processes are to be organized in way that employees have no direct contact with each other if possible.
On May 12, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy and Ministry of and Finance have finalized arrangements with the state-owned development bank (KfW) to financially help founders and employees of start-ups during the pandemic. EUR 2 billion will be available through either the Corona Matching Facility, which will supply venture capital funds with additional public financing, or through direct funds from state enterprises. The Minister of Economic Affairs and Energy emphasized that supporting start-ups and SMEs with sustainable business models was to secure jobs and support innovation.
On March 25, rules on rent payments have been tweaked at least until the end of September. According to the new rules, nonpayment of rent will not be valid grounds for eviction for people whose income has been hit by the coronavirus. The requirements to qualify for long-term Hartz IV unemployment benefit and for child support will be temporarily loosened as the government reckons with a sharp uptick in applications. New applicants will not be required to submit information on their assets or on the size of their monthly rent payments for the next six months. Families that have lost a large share of their incomes are to be given easier access to the children's allowance. Extra funds are also being set aside for parents forced to stop work or work less because their children can no longer go to schools or kindergartens.
The parliament approved expanded regulations regarding the flexible short time working scheme (“Kurzarbeitergeld”), in which the government pays a share of employee salaries (60% or more) if they are temporarily unnecessary for production. This will make it easier for companies to hold onto workers instead of laying them off. Companies will only need to show that 10% of their workforce are affected in order to qualify. The short-time allowance can be granted for up to twelve months. It is paid at the same level as unemployment benefit and compensates for 60% of the net pay lost as a result of the short-time work (67% for employees with children).
There is compensation for loss of earnings for those who are placed in quarantine because of the corona virus or who are not allowed to work because of his or her own infection and therefore suffers a loss of earnings. They will receive compensation for his or her loss of earnings on the basis of the Protection against Infection Act. Self-employed persons and employers who have to pay compensation to their employees can submit applications.
On April 8, the federal government decided on assistance for students and academics with limited-term employment contracts. For academics in the qualification phase leading up to a doctoral degree and in the immediate period thereafter, the maximum length of a limited-term contract will be extended, by the length of time for which the pandemic results in restrictions being imposed on the operating of universities and academic facilities. Students who are recipients of student loans will be entitled to work during the coronavirus pandemic to supplement their income. This will not be deducted from the assistance available to them under the BAföG student loan scheme.
On May 14, the federal parliament (Bundestag) passed a second comprehensive social protection package. Extensions of unemployment insurance and extensions of short-time allowance (Kurzarbeitergeld) are included. The extensions of short-time allowance foresees that employees that have reduced working time of at least 50% the short-time allowance will increase to 70% as of the fourth month of short-time allowance (77% for employees with children). After seven months of short-time work, the allowance will increase to 80% and 87% for employees with children. In addition, employees on short-time work are allowed to take up other working activities with earnings adding up to their previous net income as of May 1. The extension of unemployment insurance includes that entitlement to unemployment benefit can be prolonged up to three months for unemployed persons. The social protection package also includes provisions to guarantee necessary meals for children and students in need, if their schools or learning centers are closed due to distancing measures.