Söder, who's the leader of the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party of Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), wants to see face masks become mandatory in schools, public places and in the workplace across Germany when the number of infections increases.
Currently face masks are mandatory on public transport and in shops throughout Germany. In some areas the mask obligation has also been extended to schools and workplaces, and on some streets.
What could a general mask rule look like?
According to Söder, the rules for a nationwide “general mask obligation” (allgemeine Maskenpflicht) should take a 'traffic light system' approach.
– If a region clocks up more than 35 new infections per 100,000 residents within seven days, masks should be compulsory in heavily frequented public places and secondary schools. And when the limit passes 50 cases per 100,000 residents in seven days, masks should be extended to primary schools and after-school centres.
– Söder also called for a nationwide obligation to wear masks in the workplace if minimum distances cannot be observed, and if the warning value exceeds 35 new infections per 100,000 people in seven days.
– Meanwhile, he said that the rest of the states should follow the Bavarian example and impose, for example, a 10pm curfew for restaurants when the 7-day warning value has reached 50. He said he was prepared to talk about national rules on curfew hours.
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What is the current situation?
Chancellor Merkel and the state leaders reached an agreement on new measures to contain the pandemic last week, which included extending the obligation to wear masks in coronavirus hotspots.
They decided that when a region hits a seven-day value of 35 “a supplementary obligation to wear masks in public places where people come together more closely and/or for longer periods” should be introduced.
At a value of 50, compulsory mask rules should be extended again. But there are no concrete rules on where and how this should be implemented, because it can be regulated by the states.
But due to Germany's federal system which results in states implementing rules in very different ways, critics say residents have been left confused.
There have been growing calls for nationwide uniform rules that are easier to follow.
'It will be a lonely Christmas if we can't get numbers under control'
So far, no lockdown restrictions like in spring have been needed in Germany, said Söder. If this is to remain so, “serious community measures must now be taken”.
“Either we will manage to get the figures under control again in the next four weeks – or it will be very difficult,” Söder said, according to those who attended the CSU conference. “Then it will be a lonely Christmas.”
If it isn't possible to bring the infection figures down, contacts cannot be traced by health authorities. That would result in tougher measures, said Söder.
“This will then be the preliminary stage of a lockdown,” warned the CSU chairman. Nobody wants that. “But we are approaching this situation again with big steps all over Germany”.
Söder called on the entire population to join forces in the fight against the virus and to show more solidarity, echoing Merkel's recent message.
“It is not about following the state,” he said.”We need solidarity between generations and solidarity within a society”
The most vulnerable had to be protected by everyone, he said.
Söder believes Germany is facing an extremely difficult situation. And it's harder than in spring because cold weather makes it difficult to be outdoors.
Politically, there was “much more unity, much more backing” in the first pandemic wave, he said.
“The overall success of the corona pandemic wave is not defined by regulations or fines, but crucially by the willingness of the population to participate in the response to the pandemic,” Söder added.