‘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.

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German health agency expects number of Covid ICU patients to rise

The Covid pandemic is continuing to cause problems around Germany, with concerns that the number of patients needing treatment will rise in the coming weeks.

German health agency expects number of Covid ICU patients to rise

In its weekly Covid report, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) said that confirmed infections appeared to be rising in some German states, and falling in others.

But experts warned that the situation remained tense, with many infections not reported. 

Therefore, in the coming weeks, “hospitalisations, an increase in intensive care treatment and deaths are to be expected, especially among the elderly”, said the RKI.

People over the age of 80 “continue to be most affected by severe courses of the disease”, the experts said in their report. 

The incidence of infections is continuing to rise for this age group, and the number of outbreaks of Covid-19 in medical treatment facilities as well as in old people’s and nursing homes is going up.

READ ALSO: Which Covid rules are likely to return to Germany in autumn?

The number of patients with Covid-19 being treated in intensive care units (ICUs) is also rising slightly. In the previous week, the number was reported to be around 1,330. And on Thursday July 28th, 1,550 people were in ICUs in Germany with 484 receiving ventilation treatment, according to the DIVI intensive care register. 

The number of deaths in connection with the virus is currently around just over 400 per week. The RKI says this trend is a plateau.

When it comes to the overall picture of Covid in Germany, the RKI said there was a “sideways movement rather than a decreasing trend”.

Last week, the nationwide 7-day incidence decreased slightly compared to the previous week. The overall picture shows falling incidences in most western German states and Berlin, with incidences still rising slightly in the other eastern German states and Bavaria.

The RKI estimates there’s been a total of 800,000 to 1.5 million people with Covid (who also have symptoms) in the past week alone in Germany.

Last week experts warned that they expected the Covid situation to get worse in the coming weeks as many schools in Germany return after the summer break.

READ ALSO: Germany’s summer Covid wave set to get worse

The Omicron sub-variant BA.5, which has dominated in Germany since mid-June, has almost completely displaced other variants. It accounts for 89 percent of samples in the past week, the RKI said.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach warned people against underestimating getting Covid again.

The SPD politician pointed out that it was very easy to become infected with BA.5 – even for those who were infected with a previous type.

He warned that many could become seriously ill or die, plus there’s the risk of picking up Long Covid.

“Therefore, we have to solve the problem not by constant infection, but by better vaccines,” Lauterbach said.

‘Call things as they are’

Lauterbach, meanwhile, defended himself against his choice of words when describing the possibility of a new dangerous Covid variant emerging in autumn. 

In an interview with Bild newspaper in April he said: “It is quite possible that we will get a highly contagious Omicron variant that is as deadly as Delta – that would be an absolute killer variant.”

He was slammed for his dramatic choice of words. 

This week Lauterbach said: “I use few vocabulary that is apocalyptic. But sometimes you have to call things as they are.”

If there were a virus that linked the contagion of the BA.5 variant with the severe course of a Delta variant, “that would be a killer variant”, he maintained.

But he stressed that he had “not said that such a variant is definitely coming, but that we have to be prepared for such a variant”.

READ ALSO: German Health Minister calls on under 60s to get next Covid jab