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After passing through the Bundestag, the amendment to Germany’s Protection Against Infection Act (IfSG) has now been approved by the Bundesrat and signed by the Federal President. The amended legislation treats higher education institutions the same way as schools – no in-person teaching is allowed if the incidence rate exceeds 165. “Unfortunately, the amendment to the law does not consider the specific nature of university teaching,” said Rector Professor Beate Schücking. She is counting on many formats of university teaching, such as practical lab work, remaining possible. The science ministers of the Länder share this hope.

“Leipzig University is already conducting the semester online, but we still need exceptions, for example when it comes to practical training in medicine and dentistry, and in practical laboratory work in the natural sciences – where, incidentally, we also work with alternating groups,” said Schücking. “We are now counting on such opportunities still being possible despite the amendment to the law, for example because many university teaching formats, such as practical lab work, do not count as traditional in-person teaching.” She added that traditional teacher-centred instruction, comparable to teaching in schools, has already been suspended at Leipzig University for many months. “Of course, we would like to keep the existing practical solutions wherever possible, since they already work from a hygiene perspective. Using them has proven effective.” Furthermore, it is of course also hoped that “the current measures will have an impact overall and that we in Leipzig will continue to stay below the 165 threshold”.

A letter on this matter from the science ministers of the Länder to Federal Minister of Health Jens Spahn dated Friday, 23 April 2021, reads: “We expressly welcome the fact that – according to the explanatory memorandum to Sect. 28b(3) of the Act – examinations by higher education institutions are still possible. According to the explanatory memorandum, ‘research activities, activities in laboratories and similar facilities’, are also still possible because they too do not count as teaching within the meaning of Sect. 28b(3). We interpret (the paragraph) to include, as before, all practical training phases, for example those involving patients in clinics, internships, practical and artistic training components, since these in-person higher education activities are not comparable with in-person teaching in schools.”

Michél Kubisch, Head of the Office for Environmental Protection and Occupational Safety at Leipzig University, is naturally also concerned with the consequences of the amendment. “We are currently working on a new draft of our hygiene concept that will incorporate the new requirements of the updated Protection Against Infection Act and the forthcoming new coronavirus rules that will apply in Saxony. The requirement of the amended act for employers to offer all employees two rapid tests per week is currently being prepared in Dresden. We do not expect the additional tests needed for this to be available next week.”