‘They could reduce the risk’: Germany’s public health institute updates stance on face masks

The Robert Koch Institute has updated its position regarding people wearing protective face masks in public places, saying more widespread use could help slow the coronavirus spread.

'They could reduce the risk': Germany's public health institute updates stance on face masks
People in a Bavarian supermarket wearing face masks. Photo: DPA

Experts from the public health organisation now say that as a precautionary measure to help prevent the risk of transmission, people without coronavirus symptoms should consider wearing a protective face mask.

Previously, they had recommended that only people with acute respiratory infections should wear the mask, which covers the wearer's nose and mouth.

In an updated entry dated April 1st, the RKI website states: “Some infected people do not become ill at all (asymptomatic infection), but could still pass it on to others.

“In these cases, the precautionary wearing of masks could help to reduce the risk of transmission.

“Therefore, the wearing of temporary masks by people entering public places where the safety distance cannot be maintained, e.g. public transport, grocery stores or even at the workplace, could help to reduce the spread of SARS-CoV-2.”

The RKI added that masks “could support the awareness of physical distancing and health-conscious behaviour”.

They said that for optimal effectiveness, the protective face mask, which could also take the form of a textile barrier if there's a shortage, should be correctly fitted (i.e. worn tightly), changed when wet, and not touched while being worn.

Graph translated for The Local by Statista.

As The Local reported, the eastern German city of Jena became the first city in Germany to introduce compulsory face masks for shopping, public transportation and public buildings.

The order, which kicks in next week, was called for by the city’s health department, with the aim of increasing the safety of people in areas “where a minimum distance [of 1.5 metres] can not be maintained.”

READ ALSO: Coronavirus: How to do social distancing in Germany


The city said that there was already a basic supply of masks for nursing staff, doctors and other needed professions such as bus drivers. 

It called on people to make their own masks if a professional one was not available, and said that other types of face coverings such as scarves would also be acceptable as long as they cover the nose and mouth. 

On Monday, Austria also announced that shoppers in supermarkets will have to wear face masks in order to further clamp down on the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Other towns and districts in Germany are also introducing these measures, although there's been no sign of a nationwide order yet.

Wearing a mask to protect yourself and others from coronavirus remains a debated subject. 

There is no indication that there would be any benefit, said World Health Organization (WHO) emergency aid director Michael Ryan in Geneva on Monday.

Yet others believe they are helpful.

Easter holiday trips banned

It came as Easter holidays to the islands and vacation spots in the northern German state Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania were banned.

The state government said no trips could be taken over the Easter holidays to popular holiday destinations, such as the islands of Rügen, Usedom and Hiddensee, to the Baltic Sea coast, and to the Mecklenburg Lake District.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Munich sees sharp rise in Covid cases after Oktoberfest

Since the start of Germany’s Oktoberfest, the incidence of Covid infections in Munich has risen sharply. Though a connection with the festival can’t yet be proven, it seems likely.

Munich sees sharp rise in Covid cases after Oktoberfest

Two weeks after the start of Oktoberfest, the Covid numbers in Munich have more than tripled.

On Sunday, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported an incidence of 768.7 for the city of Munich, though updated figures for the end of the festival are not expected until later in the week. Usually, on weekends and public holidays, there is a delay in reports.

In the entire state of Bavaria, the incidence value on Sunday was 692.5.

According to Munich’s public health officer, Beatrix Zurek, bed occupancy in Munich hospitals has also increased. Two weeks ago, 200 beds in Munich were occupied by Covid patients, whereas there are now around 350.

Though a relationship between the sharp rise in infections with Oktoberfest, which ended on Monday, can’t be proven at the moment, it seems very likely, according to experts. A significant increase in Covid incidences has also been shown at other public festivals – about one and a half weeks after the start. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s famed Oktoberfest opens after two-year pandemic hiatus

After a two-year break due to the pandemic, around 5.7 million visitors came to this year’s Wiesn according to the festival management – around 600,000 fewer than at the last Oktoberfest before the pandemic in 2019, when there were 6.3 million.

Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) took to Twitter to comment on the rise in incidence in Munich during the Oktoberfest. “This would not have been necessary if self-tests had been taken before admission,” he said.

“Compared to the price of a measure of beer, €2-3 (for tests) wouldn’t have mattered,” he said.

Even before the start of the Wiesn, he had spoken out in favour of people taking voluntary self-tests. Lauterbach stressed that now is the time for special measures against Covid.

“The development shows what will happen if the states wait too long with the mask obligation in indoor areas,” he added.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Germany’s new Covid-19 rules from October

In neighbouring counties, where many Oktoberfest visitors came from, the number of Covid cases has also risen noticeably.  Beatrix Zurek said that it is unclear, however, how much of a role Oktoberfest played in these figures, as people are currently much more active socially overall, with concerts and other events also taking place throughout the state.

Christoph Spinner, an infections specialist at Munich’s Klinikum, has urged people not to be alarmed by the rising numbers.

“We had expected rising incidences here. We knew that there could be a doubling, tripling, even quadrupling,” he said.

He said that this is no cause for concern, as many people have been vaccinated or have also recovered from previous Covid infections, so any new infections are therefore usually mild.

The virologist advises people over 60 or with pre-existing conditions to get a second booster vaccination, but otherwise said people shouldn’t be alarmed by the rising incidences.