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HEALTH

Face masks to remain mandatory in shops across Germany

Germany has been considering getting rid of compulsory face masks to help pandemic-hit shops. But it looks like they're here to stay. Here's why, and what Local readers think.

Face masks to remain mandatory in shops across Germany
People browsing in the CoLibris bookstore in Unterhaching, Bavaria on April 27th. Photo: DPA

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.”

It came after a debate was sparked over whether the mask obligation should be partially scrapped to support businesses.

READ ALSO: Why a row has broken out in Germany over face masks

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.”

READ ALSO: North-east Germany considers ending mask wearing in August

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.

On Facebook, Luke Ferdinand Niederer said: “Absolutely – the only way to keep the virus somehow in check.”
 
Gerard Wade added: “Wear your face mask..please.”

'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.

Member comments

  1. Honestly I find that compulsory mask wearing has not stopped me from going shopping here in DE. Mask wearing is no big issue for me. It didn’t take our family long to realise we can save a lot of money by not shopping and therefore pay-off bills/loans…and instead have reserves for better purchases later. Our house is already so full of ‘stuff’ and the insidious pressure to constantly spend/buy/shop was already boring before Coronavirus hit. Lockdown for my family actually made us realise that human health and responsibilities were more meaningful than shopping. Spokespeople who hold mask wearing as a major reason for lack of sales in shops might be shortsighted. In addition, telling me that the public standing around me in a shop don’t have to wear masks is not going to make me feel more likely to go into a shop and buy myself anything (not another bag of badly sewn fast fashion or other plastic rubbish just to keep the economy going as if it’s my public duty…) The thought deterrs me even more. The economic systems might have to shift their modes of operation, their foci and change…interesting times!

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COVID-19 RULES

EXPLAINED: The Covid rules in place across German states

Many Covid restrictions have been dropped in Germany, but some rules remain in place. And as infections increase again, it's important to be aware of what you should do if you get Covid.

EXPLAINED: The Covid rules in place across German states

Germany has relaxed or changed many Covid restrictions in recent months. However, with Covid infections rocketing again, people are reminding themselves of what rules remain in place, and what they have to do if they get a positive test.

Here’s a quick roundup of what you should know. 

Face masks

Covid masks have to be worn when travelling on public transport, including planes departing to and from Germany. 

They also have to be worn in places where there are more vulnerable people, such as care homes, hospitals and doctor offices. 

Masks are not mandatory anymore in shops (including supermarkets) and restaurants, but individual businesses can enforce the rule so watch out for signs on the door. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s current Covid mask rules

FFP2 masks have become the standard in Germany, but in some cases other medical masks are sufficient.

There are no longer any entry rules to public venues such as the 3G or 2G rule, meaning that people had to show proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative test. 

However, they could return in autumn if the infection protection laws are adapted, and if the Covid situation gets worse.

Mandatory isolation 

The rules on isolation differ from state to state, but there is one general requirement: those who test positive for Covid have to go into isolation at home and avoid all contact with people outside the household. The isolation period lasts at least five days or a maximum of 10 days.

If you get a positive result at home, you should go to a test centre and undergo a rapid antigen test. If it is positive, the quarantine obligation kicks in. If it is negative, you have to get a PCR test.

If you have Covid symptoms, you should contact your doctor, local health authorities or the non-emergency medical on-call service on 116 117. They can advise or whether you should get a PCR test. 

Across German states, the isolation period lasts 10 days, but – as we mentioned above – there are differences on how it can end earlier. 

In Berlin, for instance, it can be shortened from the fifth day with a negative test if you have been symptom free for 48 hours. If this isn’t the case, the isolation is extended until you have been symptom-free for 48 hours and tested negative. But you can leave without a negative test after 10 days. 

A positive Covid test.

A positive Covid test. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sebastian Gollnow

Anyone who tests positive for Covid using a rapid test at a testing centre can have a free PCR test to confirm whether they have Covid-19. If the PCR test is negative, there is no obligation to go into quarantine.

In Bavaria, the isolation period is five days after the first positive test. For isolation to end on day five you must be symptom free for at least 48 hours. Otherwise, isolation is extended for 48 hours at a time until the maximum of 10 days. 

A test-to-release is not needed to end the isolation, unless the person works in a medical setting. 

READ ALSO: Germany sets out new Covid isolation rules

After isolation, Bavaria recommends that you wear an FFP2 mask in public places indoors and reduce contact for an extra five days. 

The state of Hesse has a similar system to Bavaria where a test is not needed to end the isolation early (unless the person works in a medical setting).

In North Rhine-Westphalia and Hamburg, residents can end their Covid isolation on the fifth day if they get a negative test (carried out at a testing centre). Otherwise the isolation period continues until the 10th day, or until they get a negative test.

Close contacts of people infected with Covid (including household contacts) no longer have to quarantine in Germany, but they are advised to get tested regularly and monitor for symptoms, as well as reduce contacts for five days. 

As ever, check with your local authority for the detailed rules.

Travel

Germany recently provisionally dropped almost all of its Covid travel restrictions, making it much easier to enter the country. 

The changes mean that entry into Germany is now allowed for all travel purposes, including tourism. The move makes travel easier – and cheaper – for people coming from non-EU countries, particularly families who may have needed multiple Covid tests for children. 

People also no longer have to show proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative test against Covid before coming to Germany – the so-called 3G rule. 

However, if a country is classed as a ‘virus variant’ region, tougher rules are brought in. 

It is likely that travel rules could be reinstated again after summer or if the Covid situation gets worse so keep an eye on any developments. 

READ ALSO: Germany drops Covid entry restrictions for non-EU travellers

Vaccine mandate

The mandate making Covid vaccinations compulsory for medical staff remains in place. A vaccine mandate that would have affected more of the population in Germany was rejected by the Bundestag in a vote in April

READ ALSO: Germany’s top court approves Covid vaccine mandate for health care workers

Workplaces

Masks are no longer mandatory in workplaces, unless it is in a setting where more risks groups are, such as hospitals or care homes. 

The government no longer requires people to work from home, but employers and employees can reach their own ‘home office’ arrangement.

Tests are also no longer mandatory, but workplaces can offer their employees regular tests. 

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