Face masks to be made compulsory across Germany in fight against coronavirus

People all over Germany must be prepared to wear face masks in the fight against the coronavirus spread after all 16 states opted to make it mandatory on public transport.

Face masks to be made compulsory across Germany in fight against coronavirus
People wearing face masks in Erfurt, Thuringia on Wednesday. Photo: DPA

Residents in Germany, which has a population of around 83 million people, will have to wear a covering over their face and mouth while travelling on buses, trains and trams – and in some states while in shops.

Bremen on Wednesday became the last of the country's 16 states to announce that it will make it mandatory to wear a face mask.

Residents there will have to cover their mouth and nose on public transport and while shopping, starting on Monday April 27th.

Other state governments announced similar steps on Wednesday. North Rhine-Westphalia, Lower Saxony, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland, and Brandenburg will also make masks mandatory from Monday.

Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania had already decided to make masks mandatory on public transport from Monday, and is now extending this to shops, the state government decided on Wednesday.

Following announcements from states earlier in the week including Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg, Hamburg and Hesse, Berlin mayor Michael Müller said on Tuesday 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”.

In Berlin it's not mandatory to wear a face covering while out shopping, but it is strongly recommended.

Across Germany, it is understood that 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 German government last week strongly recommended that people wear masks over their mouth and nose in shops and on public transport to help contain the coronavirus spread.

But states have been making their own decisions on whether it should be a requirement or not.

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.

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

With more than 147,000 confirmed cases and 5,200 deaths as of Wednesday April 22nd, Germany has been one of the countries worst hit by Covid-19, but also one of the quickest to react.

A total of 95,200 of the total confirmed cases are reported to have recovered from the virus, according to Johns Hopkins University figures.

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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.