People in Germany will have to continue to wear coverings over their mouth and nose in shops and supermarkets for the foreseeable future, federal states have decided.
Health ministers across Germany's 16 states made the decision following a conference with Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn on Monday, reported the Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland (RND).
They said masks needed to remain in place on both public transport and in the retail sector so that residents did not get the impression the coronavirus pandemic was over in Germany.
On Monday, Chancellor Angela Merkel also rejected the idea of getting rid of compulsory masks.
“Wherever the minimum distance (of 1.5 metres) cannot be guaranteed in public life, masks are an important and, from today's perspective, still indispensable tool,” said Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert.
They are needed in order to keep the number of infections low and to protect yourself as well as others, Seibert said. “So whether on the bus, in the subway or in retail stores, it should remain mandatory to wear masks.”
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It came after a debate was sparked over whether the mask obligation should be partially scrapped to support businesses.
Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania economy minister Harry Glawe spoke out in favour of getting rid of the mask requirement to help the pandemic-hit retail trade.
“If the infection rate stays so low I can't see any reason to maintain the duty to wear masks in shops,” said the northeastern state's economy minister, who is a member of Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU).
“I can fully understand why the retail sector is so impatient for us to end compulsory mask wearing.”
Germany introduced compulsory masks on public transport and in shops at the end of April in a bid to slow the spread of Covid-19, with some states enforcing fines for those who flout the rules.
The Local Germany readers also said compulsory masks should remain in place in Germany. In polls on social media the vast majority of people said they support the regulation.
Germany is debating masks again. Do you think face coverings should remain mandatory on public transport and in shops in Germany?
— Rachel Loxton (@RachLoxton) July 6, 2020
'Helps to reduce infection risk'
Before the decision by health ministers, many politicians had rejected the idea of getting rid of the rule.
“Wearing a mask helps to reduce the risk of infection,” said Rhineland-Palatinate state premier Malu Dreyer of the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD).
“Masks are a rather small effort with a big effect and – in connection with contact restrictions and high hygiene standards – an important, also scientifically proven means in the fight against the virus.”
“For Berlin, getting rid of the obligation for covering the mouth and nose with a mask in the retail trade does not play a role at this point in time,” the Senate Chancellery in the capital said.
“Particularly now, when more and more loosening (of restrictions) is taking place, the rules of distance and hygiene as well as mouth-nose protection are all the more important to prevent the spread of the virus,”
Rostock infectiologist Emil Reisinger supported this position. “The danger of a second wave has not yet been averted. I hope that we can get around it, but we must be careful,” Reisinger told DPA on Monday.