‘We’re learning from the pandemic’: Germany to store medical supplies for future crises

Chancellor Angela Merkel's government agreed Monday to create 19 storage sites for medical equipment across Germany to avoid the shortages of masks and other protective gear seen at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

'We're learning from the pandemic': Germany to store medical supplies for future crises
Face masks being produced in Laage, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania in September. Photo: DPA

“The pandemic has taught us to take more precautions,” Health Minister Jens Spahn told reporters.

The German government plans to spend one billion euros next year setting up 19 “national health reserves” dotted across the country to make sure Europe's top economy is better prepared for the next health crisis, he said.

“We are learning during the crisis, from the crisis,” Spahn said.

The storage sites will contain supplies of personal protective gear including masks as well as medicines and ventilators for patients experiencing respiratory failure.

The goal is for each facility to contain enough supplies for a month for local hospitals, care homes and doctor's offices.

Initially the sites will be filled with items already available or ordered, including protective gear sourced from China.

But from 2022, the government aims to rely more on “made in Germany” medical equipment to reduce reliance on outside supply chains, Spahn said.

Germany coped relatively well with the first wave of the coronavirus in the spring, partly thanks to early and widespread testing and a robust healthcare system.

READ ALSO: Germany enlists industrial giants to procure masks and medical gear

But like other European nations, it too was caught off guard by the sudden demand for protective gear for health workers and scrambled to compete in the global marketplace for adequate supplies.

Since then, the government has pledged to create more incentives for homegrown firms to manufacture face masks, gowns, gloves and other medical items.

Germany has been hit hard by a second wave of coronavirus cases in recent weeks, pushing the total number of confirmed Covid-19 infections past one million, according to the Robert Koch Institute for disease control.

The number of patients in intensive care has soared more than tenfold since early October. More than 16,000 people have died from Covid-19 so far.

READ ALSO: German techies turn to 3D printers to produce coronavirus protective gear

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EXPLAINED: The new rules on masks that come into force in Germany next week

Several German states announced on Tuesday that they were relaxing rules on mandatory mask wearing. We break down what the new rules are state-by-state.

EXPLAINED: The new rules on masks that come into force in Germany next week
A taped over sign ordering mask wearing in Munich. Photo: dpa | Peter Kneffel

Baden-Württemberg has confirmed that it will relax the obligation to wear masks in schools.

The relaxations will only apply in districts where the seven-day incidence of infection is below 35 cases per 100,000 and there has been no outbreak at the school for two weeks. If that is the case, masks will no longer be required “in classes in all types of schools,” state health minister Manne Lucha said in Stuttgart on Tuesday.

The new rules will come into effect at the end of next week.

Lucha raised the possibility of relaxing the mask-wearing rules in other areas, such as outside in public spaces, in well-ventilated train stations and at bus stops but stopped short of making a specific commitment.

State leader Winfried Kretschmann suggested that the south-western state would move slowly on ending mask-wearing rules. Warning that ending the rules too quickly could end in a fourth wave of infections, he said: “Let’s not be cocky, otherwise we will pay bitterly.”

The southern state of Bavaria has no immediate plans to relax its rules on masks. “I advise restraint here,” said state leader Markus Söder on Monday in Munich. 

Arguing that “premature relaxations have proven to be a mistake in the past,” Söder said “we shouldn’t always disregard everything when the skies clear up.”

Nonetheless, in the state capital of Munich, the requirement to wear masks in the inner city was ended on June 9th.

Berlin has decided to end some of its mask-wearing rules. In the capital, masks will no longer have to be worn on the pavements of shopping streets and in busy squares, as has been mandatory since late last year. Masks still have to be worn in outdoor areas where social distancing isn’t possible.

Masks will also no longer be required outdoors at the zoo, Berlin’s Senate decided on Tuesday. 

But there will be no change to the rules for buses and trains: FFP2 masks will continue to be a requirement on public transport.

The rules in the capital still have to be confirmed but are set to change early next week.

In view of low infection rates in the north of the country, the Hamburg senate has loosened its mask rules. Outdoor mask wearing will now only be required on the weekend in crowded areas.


The port city will keep hold of its mask rules at weekly markets and indoors as well as on public transport. 

In the north-eastern state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, masks will no longer be required outdoors as of next week. The rule change was confirmed by state leader Manuela Schwesig on Tuesday, who also said that tourists would now only need to present a negative test upon arrival in the state, which is a popular summer vacation destination.

In North Rhine-Westphalia, the state government has relaxed the rules on wearing masks in public transport. From now on a medical mask will suffice where once an FFP2 mask was necessary. Germany’s most populous state has also ended the requirement for children to wear masks inside the classroom.

As of next Monday masks will no longer be required in classrooms in any school in Rhineland-Palatinate. State education minister Stefanie Hubig confirmed the move to DPA on Tuesday.

Hubig said though that masks would have to be worn on the way to the classroom. Meanwhile, the new rule is only valid as long as the seven-day incidence of infection remains below a value of 35, she added.