LATEST: Berlin joins other German states to make face masks compulsory on public transport

Germany's capital Berlin joined several federal states in announcing Tuesday that it will make protective masks compulsory on public transport, in a bid to halt contagion of the novel coronavirus.

LATEST: Berlin joins other German states to make face masks compulsory on public transport
A woman wearing a face mask in a supermarket in Berlin. Photo: DPA

Following similar announcements from states including Baden-Württemberg, Hamburg and Hesse, Berlin mayor Michael Müller told reporters that “to be able to protect people” in trains, buses and trams, his city government intended to make “protection of the nose and mouth compulsory from April 27th”.

All types of masks are allowed, including homemade ones. Other types of face coverings such as scarves are also acceptable as long as they cover the nose and mouth, the Berliner Morgenpost reported Tuesday.

The Berlin government strongly recommends that people wear masks when in shops – but it will not be an obligation to wear one in this setting.

Should face masks be mandatory nationwide?

The German government last week strongly recommended that people wear masks over their mouth and nose in shops or on public transport to help contain the coronavirus spread.

However, states – and some cities – across Germany have been making masks mandatory. It's led to calls for Germany to adopt a uniform line on the wearing of masks.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about plans for Germany's states to ease lockdown

Saxony was the first federal state to make masks compulsory. Residents there now have to wear masks while shopping and in public transport. 

Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg, Thuringia, Schleswig-Holstein and Hamburg are now following suit.

Thuringia wants to introduce the mask obligation starting Friday, and in Bavaria, from Monday April 27th. In Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, masks will be mandatory from April 27th, but only on public transport.

READ ALSO: Bavaria makes face masks compulsory in bid to control coronavirus spread

In Baden-Wüttemberg and Saxony-Anhalt, masks will also be made mandatory in shops and public transport; in both states, the governments are discussing the issue today.

Starting on Monday, Frankfurt will also make masks mandatory in public transport and in stores, following the example of Hanau.

The whole state of Hesse will also make face masks compulsory but has not yet set a timetable for when it will be introduced.

By Tuesday April 21st, 10 out of 16 states were set to enforce compulsory masks, affecting nearly 49 million Germans – over half the country's population.

Among those yet to introduce the measures are the city of Bremen and the region of North-Rhine Westphalia, Germany's largest state by population.

Germany last week announced plans to ramp up domestic production of masks to 50 million a week by August, including 10 million of the more protective FFP2 standard and 40 million surgical masks.

Jena was the first city in Germany to make masks mandatory back at the beginning of April.


'No end in sight'

 It came as experts said they feared a second wave of coronavirus infections due to measures being relaxed.

During a press conference in Berlin on Tuesday morning, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) underlined how serious the situation is in Germany, despite progress being made.

“The virus is not gone,” said RKI vice president Lars Schaade. “There is no end in sight to the epidemic. The number of cases may rise again.”

According to the RKI, the reproduction rate in Germany on Monday was 0.9, which means that a person with coronavirus is infecting roughly one other person.

The infection rate is a key indicator for politicians as they work out Germany's gradual steps out of the lockdown (as Angela Merkel explained last week).

READ ALSO: Germany to begin easing coronavirus curbs in coming weeks

Schaade said there was a danger of a second wave of infections if coronavirus measures were relaxed too quickly, pushing the reproduction number up.

On Monday shops up to 800 square metres began reopening and there are plans for schools to return in the coming weeks. Social distancing and hygiene measures must be in place.

“The less we prevent the virus, the more likely it will fall back to its basic reproduction number, which is between two and three,” said Schaade.

“If we pretend nothing is wrong, there will be another outbreak”

With the gradual lifting of coronavirus measures, there is a risk of more infections happening.

It will “take many months until we have a situation that allows us to go back to everyday life”, said Schaade.

READ ALSO: Coronavirus outbreak is 'under control' says Health Minister

More cases in care homes

The death rate in Germany has risen to 3.2 percent, Schaade said. The average age of those who’ve died from coronavirus in Germany is currently 81-years-old. The RKI said the coronavirus epidemic is hitting hard in care homes which was resulting in an increase in the number of deaths.

“Outbreaks continue to be reported in nursing homes, homes for the elderly and hospitals,” said Schaade.

As of Tuesday April 21st there were a total of 147,065 confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany, according to Johns Hopkins University figures. Of those, a total of 95,200 people have said they’ve recovered from the disease and 4,862 people have died. 

Schaade called on people to continue following the social distancing rules, which include staying at home as much as possible, avoiding gatherings of more than two in public, keeping a distance of at least 1.5 metres from others in public and sneezing or coughing into the crook of your arm.

“The number of cases must remain at a level that the health system can cope with,” said Schaade.

“We all can and must contribute to keeping the number of cases low – out of solidarity towards medical staff and out of solidarity towards risk groups,” he added.

With reporting by AFP

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Pandemic in Germany unlikely to end this year, says top virologist

High profile German virologist Christian Drosten believes Germany will see a severe spike in Covid infections after summer, and that the pandemic will not become endemic this year.

Pandemic in Germany unlikely to end this year, says top virologist

Drosten previously said that Germany would probably be able to declare the end of the pandemic this year.

But in an interview with Spiegel, Drosten said he had reevaluated his opinion. 

“When the Alpha variant came, it was very surprising for me. When Delta appeared I was sceptical at first, then with Omicron we had to reorient ourselves again. And since January there have already been new Omicron subtypes.

“So I would actually like to correct myself: I no longer believe that by the end of the year we will have the impression that the pandemic is over.”

READ ALSO: End is in sight for pandemic in Germany, says virologist 

Drosten also said that Germany will not see a largely Covid-free summer, which has been the case in previous years, and a further increase in infections in autumn. 

“We are actually already seeing an exponential increase in case numbers again,” Drosten said.

“The BA.5 variant (of Omicron) is simply very transmissible, and people are losing their transmission protection from the last vaccination at the same time.”

In other countries, he said, when the number of cases become high, hospitalisation and death rates also rise again. “Unfortunately, that will also be the case here,” said Drosten, but added: “Overall, however, far fewer people will become seriously ill and die than in 2021.”

Drosten said he expected many more infections from September.

“I hope that the school holidays will dampen the increase in cases somewhat. But from September, I fear we will have very high case numbers,” the head of the virology department at Berlin’s Charité hospital told Spiegel.

READ ALSO: German Health Minister lays out autumn Covid plan

Virologist Christian Drosten at a Covid press conference in 2021.

Virologist Christian Drosten at a Covid press conference in 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

If the government does not take any action, he predicted there would be a lot of sick leave across all industries. “That will become a real problem,” he said.

Drosten said he did not expect overcrowded intensive care units in Germany.

But the new BA.5 sub-variant, which is becoming dominant in Germany, may affect people more strongly. 

“The wheel is turning more towards disease again,” said Drosten. It is not true that a virus automatically becomes more and more harmless in the course of evolution. “That makes me even more worried about the autumn,” he said.

Drosten recommends wearing masks indoors during the colder months, saying it is “the least painful” measure.

If, in addition, “up to 40 million people could be immunised or given a booster vaccination” before winter, for example by urgently calling for company vaccinations, that would “really make a difference”, Drosten said.

In the long term, he said it’s inevitable that people will become infected with coronavirus.

He said the population immunity due to vaccinations and infections will at some point be so strong that the virus will become less important. “Then we will be in an endemic state,” said Drosten. In the worst case, however, this could take “several more winters”.

However, Drosten warned against people trying to deliberately infect themselves with Covid, saying getting the infection in summer doesn’t mean people will be protected in winter. 

Drosten himself said he has not yet contracted Covid-19.

“So far, I guess I’ve just been lucky,” he said. “I rarely put myself in risky situations, but I’m not overly cautious either.”

‘Pandemic depends on behaviour’

According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI)’s latest weekly report, more outbreaks are occurring in care homes, and the number of patients in intensive care units is slightly rising as infections go up. 

The institute said there had been a 23 percent increase in the 7-day incidence compared to the previous week. On Friday the 7-day incidence stood at 618.2 infections per 100,000 people. There were 108,190 infections within the latest 24 hour period and 90 deaths. 

“The further course of the pandemic depends not only on the occurrence of new virus variants and the uptake of vaccinations on offer, it also depends to a large extent on the behaviour of the population,” said the RKI.

According to the DIVI intensive care register, the number of Covid-19 patients in ICUs had increased to 810 on Thursday this week, from about 600 at the beginning of the month.

However, that number is still low compared to previous Covid peaks when thousands of people were in intensive care in Germany.