German minister backs off ending obligatory COVID isolation


Germany’s health minister has backed off a decision to end obligatory isolation for people who test positive for COVID-19, declaring that it was a mistake and sent the wrong signal.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said on Monday that the obligatory self-isolation, usually for 10 days—which can be cut to seven days with a negative test—would be scrapped May 1 and replaced with a strong recommendation to isolate for five days. Local health offices would still have ordered infected people in health facilities to stay off work.

Lauterbach announced his change of heart on ZDF television Tuesday night, saying he would give more details on Wednesday. The plan is now to keep a five-day obligatory isolation.

In a tweet early Wednesday, Lauterbach said that dropping obligatory isolation would have relieved local health offices of a burden “but the signal is wrong and damaging.”

“I made a mistake here,” he said.

“Corona is not a cold,” Lauterbach added. “So there must continue to be isolation after infection. Ordered and supervised by health offices.”

Infection levels in Germany are drifting downward from very high levels, and most coronavirus restrictions have recently been relaxed.

Lauterbach is an epidemiologist and longtime lawmaker with Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s center-left party who was one of Germany’s most prominent voices urging caution and strict measures against the coronavirus in the earlier stages of the pandemic.

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