North Rhine-Westphalia plans tougher on-the-spot penalties for people who flout mask rules

Germany's most populous state is cracking down on people who refuse to wear face masks.

North Rhine-Westphalia plans tougher on-the-spot penalties for people who flout mask rules
Passengers wear masks on a bus in Cologne in April. Photo: DPA

Those caught without a mask on public transport in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) face paying an on-the-spot fine of €150 under new rules.

“Anyone caught without a mask must get off at the next stop and pay,” said NRW transport minister Hendrik Wüst.

“We want a tightening up so that a fine of €150 is due immediately upon the first violation of the mask obligation.”

Up until now, fines have only been imposed if passengers refuse to put on the mask despite being asked to do so. But now warnings will be axed and people will have to pay immediately. Wüst said that they did not want anymore “long discussions with mask grouches”.

The state was the first in Germany back in March to introduce tough fines against people who break coronavirus restrictions.

READ ALSO: 'Punish the unreasonable': NRW introduces steep coronavirus lockdown fines

As part of the measures to stall the spread of the virus, people in Germany must wear a covering over their face and mouth when riding on public transport and in certain closed areas such as shops.

At the start of the week NRW announced it was introducing compulsory masks in the classroom at all secondary and vocational schools when the term starts on August 12th.

They must also be worn in school buildings of elementary schools, for years 1 to 4 – but not when the pupils are sitting in class.

Last week, figures showed tens of thousands of people in the capital were ignoring the rules in the German capital Berlin.

The Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe (BVG) said their staff had spotted around 30,000 violations of the mask rules in the last three weeks.

Around 200 €50 penalties have been handed out to passengers in Berlin so far.

What's Germany's official stance on masks during Covid times?

The government says that to protect people at close proximity, states “have introduced rules on wearing non-medical mouth and nose masks, called community masks, when travelling on public transport and when shopping”.

Rules on wearing mouth and nose masks can differ from region to region, so the government urges people to check the rules where you live.

“At all times, even if you wear a mouth and nose mask: keep at least 1.5 metres away from others, practice good hand hygiene and adhere to sneezing and coughing etiquette,” says the German government advise. They also urge people not to buy medical masks such as FFP 2 and FFP 3 for private use.

“These should be kept for medical staff only,” says the advice.

People who can't wear a mask for medical reasons do not have to do so. They can receive a note from their doctor to explain the situation if needed.



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EXPLAINED: The new rules around getting a sick note over the phone in Germany

Due to high Covid infection numbers throughout the summer, it’s now possible to get a sick note from a doctor over the phone again for some illnesses. Here’s what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: The new rules around getting a sick note over the phone in Germany

What’s happened?

In spring 2020, German authorities changed the law so that people with a mild upper respiratory tract illness, such as the common cold, were able to get an incapacity to work certificate or AU-Bescheinigung by simply calling and speaking to their GP.

The rule was extended several times and finally reversed on June 1st this year due to falling infection figures. Since then people have had to go back to the practice – or do a video call if the doctor’s office has that system in place – to get a sick note.

Now, due to a decision by the Joint Federal Committee, the regulation has been reintroduced and patients can call their GP again for a sick note.

Can I get a sick note over the phone for any illness?

No. As before, the regulation only applies to patients suffering from a mild upper respiratory tract illness. Though Covid has not explicitly been named in the announcement, it seems that it is intended to be covered by the regulation.

If the doctor is convinced that the patient is unfit for work after a telephone consultation, then they can issue a sick note for up to seven days.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The changes around doctor’s notes in Germany you should know

If the symptoms persist after seven days, the certificate can be extended once more for another week.

Why now?

According to the Chairman of the G-BA, Josef Hecken, the regulation has been introduced now as a response to rising Covid numbers and in anticipation of the cold and flu season in the coming months: “We want to avoid full waiting rooms in doctors’ offices and the emergence of new infection chains,” he said.

The telephone sick leave rule is a simple, proven and uniform nationwide solution for that, he said. The rule is also necessary because video consultation hours are not yet available everywhere.

What else should I know?

The health insurer DAK is calling for telephone sick leave in the case of light respiratory diseases to be made possible on a permanent basis in Germany. DAK’s CEO Andreas Storm said that this should “not always be up for debate, because it has proven itself.” 

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about making a doctor’s appointment in Germany

The social association VdK also welcomed the reintroduction of the rule. The VdK’s President Verena Bentele said that the regulation would help to protect high-risk groups in particular from potential infections.

What are the rules to know about sick notes in Germany?

Germany has a strict system in place. If you are sick, you need to give your employer a Krankmeldung (notification of sickness) before the start of work on the first day (of your illness).

However, you also need to hand in a Krankschreibung (doctor’s note) on the fourth day of your illness. Some employments contracts, however, require you to submit a sick not earlier than the fourth day so check with your boss or HR on that point.