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What you need to know about Germany’s new mask rules for public transport and shops

Germany is introducing new rules for the types of mask you can wear while travelling on public transport or shopping. Here's what it means for you.

What you need to know about Germany's new mask rules for public transport and shops
Surgical masks at the medical technology company BM Bioscience Technology in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Photo: DPA

Chancellor Angela Merkel and the 16 state leaders have decided to change the restrictions for masks in Germany.

From now on if you get on a bus, train or tram or go to the supermarket, you have to wear a so-called medical or surgical mask.

That can be the likes of an FFP2 or FFP3 mask, or a general medical/surgical mask (OP-maske in German).

However, in nursing homes, staff will have to wear the more protective FFP2 masks from now on.

READ ALSO: What you should know about Germany's stricter lockdown measures

What is considered a medical mask?

This refers to so-called disposable surgical masks that cover the mouth and nose. Respirator masks such as the FFP2 or N95 are also permitted.

Fabric masks, other face coverings including scarves, and face visors are no longer allowed under the new rules when you are in shops or riding on local transport.

What's the difference between surgical masks, fabric masks and FFP2 masks?

The face covering has become the symbol of the coronavirus pandemic. But not all masks are the same, according to experts.

Surgical masks

Disposable face masks, such as surgical or medical masks (pictured in the main photograph), are not respirators and do not protect the wearer from breathing in small particles, gases, or chemicals in the air.

They act as a protective barrier to prevent splashes, sprays or large droplets from entering the wearer’s mouth and nose.

Respirators

Respirators protect wearers from breathing in hazardous contaminants in the air. They protect against particles in the air, possibly also against aerosols. They are made of several layers of fabric and paper and have built-in filters.

FFP2, FFP3 and N95 masks are said to be more protective than fabric masks or surgical masks.

These belong to the product category “personal protective equipment” (PPE).

The below photo of Chancellor Merkel shows a respirator.

'Everyday' masks or fabric masks

Fabric masks usually have no filtering effect. They are less safe than surgical masks, but can still help prevent the spread of viruses. The more layers the fabric masks are made of, the safer they are.

The following applies to all masks: they do not offer 100 percent protection against viruses. Experts therefore warn against a false sense of security. It is not only the type of mask worn that is important, but also the behaviour of the wearer – so remember to keep distance even if you're wearing a mask.

Merkel with an FFP2 mask on January 19th. Photo: DPA

What's the situation in Bavaria?

In Bavaria, a stricter obligation to wear masks has already been in force since Monday January 18th.

Residents there are only allowed to wear masks of the model FFP2 or a higher standard on public transport and in shops, so this is different to the nationwide measure.

For more details read out story here:

What you need to know about Bavaria's new FFP2 mask requirement

Where can medical masks be bought and how much do they cost?

Many shops now offer surgical masks for sale including pharmacies, drugstores and online retailers, but also supermarkets and corner shops.

The blue and white medical masks are much cheaper than the likes of FFP2 masks. Depending on the retailer, a mask costs between 30 cents and €1. Sometimes the masks are sold individually or in bulk packs.

FFP2 masks usually cost anything between €2 and €5.

Is there a quality seal for medical masks?

There are different types of medical masks. Hospitals usually only use type II and IIR masks as medical masks.

Masks with the R mark are particularly good at keeping out liquids and aerosols.

A type II mask filters more bacteria than a type I mask. So if you want to be on the safe side when buying, you should pay attention to the type of mask.

Consumers should also look for the CE mark on the packaging, which shows it is a tested medical product.

Will I be reimbursed for the cost of buying a mask?

Generally, no. The federal-state decision does not provide for reimbursement or subsidies for masks purchased for use in public spaces.

The situation is different for masks that become mandatory in the workplace: these are to be provided by employers.

If you are over 60 or with a chronic illness you should be provided with reduced-price masks. At the end of December, the federal government decided to issue FFP2 masks for people over 60 and chronically ill people.

People affected should be receiving vouchers from their health insurance company for two sets of six masks, each with a payment by the recipient of €2.

READ ALSO: Where and how these people in Germany can get free FFP2 masks

Will people who need it get free masks?

This will likely be considered by the state governments when they are forming the legislation.

Following criticism from social organisations and opposition politicians, the Bavarian state government announced it would provide a total of 2.5 million FFP2 masks free of charge for people in need.

It is likely that state governments will look at a similar programme for providing free masks.

Do medical masks have to be worn on regional and long-distance trains?

No. FFP2 masks or other surgical masks have to be worn on local transport.

The rule does not (at least at this stage) apply on long-distance trains operated by Deutsche Bahn. Mouth and nose coverings are still required, though.

How will this be checked and enforced?

This will be decided by the states.

In Bavaria, authorities said they would take into account whether no mask at all was worn or just not the prescribed mask. That means fines could vary on a case by case basis.

The first week of the new rule in Bavaria is classed as a “goodwill week” during which no penalties are imposed for violations.

Keep an out for your local rules in the coming days as states may differ on points.

 

Member comments

  1. The producer of Class FFP2 as per EN 149 (US NIOSH N95 equivalent) states that the masks have Particle Filtration Efficiency ≥ 94% for Most Penetrating Particles Size (MPPS) of 0.3 micron.
    https://www.one-care.com/ffp2
    Researchers have also evaluated the size and content characteristics of the SARS-CoV-2 particles. Upon analysis of negative-stained SARS-CoV-2 articles by electron microscopy, researchers have determined the diameter of this virus to range between 60 nanometers (nm) to a maximum diameter of 140 nanometers (nm).
    https://www.news-medical.net/amp/health/The-Size-of-SARS-CoV-2-Compared-to-Other-Things.aspx
    This means that the holes in the FFP2 masks are twice the size of the coivd virus. Does anyone see the problem here?

  2. A micrometer (also called a micron) is 1000 times smaller than a millimeter. …
    A nanometer is 1000 times smaller than a micrometer. 1 micrometer (μm) = 1000 nanometers.

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COVID-19 ALERT

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

A resurgence of Covid-19 cases in Europe, this time driven by new, fast-spreading Omicron subvariants, is once again threatening to disrupt people's summer plans.

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

Several Western European nations have recently recorded their highest daily case numbers in months, due in part to Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5.

The increase in cases has spurred calls for increased vigilance across a continent that has relaxed most if not all coronavirus restrictions.

The first resurgence came in May in Portugal, where BA.5 propelled a wave that hit almost 30,000 cases a day at the beginning of June. That wave has since started to subside, however.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: German Health Ministry lays out autumn Covid plan

Italy recorded more than 62,700 cases on Tuesday, nearly doubling the number from the previous week, the health ministry said. 

Germany meanwhile reported more than 122,000 cases on Tuesday. 

France recorded over 95,000 cases on Tuesday, its highest daily number since late April, representing a 45-percent increase in just a week.

Austria this Wednesday recorded more than 10,000 for the first time since April.

READ ALSO: Italy’s transport mask rule extended to September as Covid rate rises

Cases have also surged in Britain, where there has been a seven-fold increase in Omicron reinfection, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The ONS blamed the rise on the BA.4 and BA.5 variants, but also said Covid fell to the sixth most common cause of death in May, accounting for 3.3 percent of all deaths in England and Wales.

BA.5 ‘taking over’

Mircea Sofonea, an epidemiologist at the University of Montpellier, said Covid’s European summer wave could be explained by two factors.

READ ALSO: 11,000 new cases: Will Austria reintroduce restrictions as infection numbers rise?

One is declining immunity, because “the protection conferred by an infection or a vaccine dose decreases in time,” he told AFP.

The other came down to the new subvariants BA.4 and particularly BA.5, which are spreading more quickly because they appear to be both more contagious and better able to escape immunity.

Olivier Schwartz, head of the virus and immunity unit at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, said BA.5 was “taking over” because it is 10 percent more contagious than BA.2.

“We are faced with a continuous evolution of the virus, which encounters people who already have antibodies — because they have been previously infected or vaccinated — and then must find a selective advantage to be able to sneak in,” he said.

READ ALSO: Tourists: What to do if you test positive for Covid in France

But are the new subvariants more severe?

“Based on limited data, there is no evidence of BA.4 and BA.5 being associated with increased infection severity compared to the circulating variants BA.1 and BA.2,” the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said last week.

But rising cases can result in increasing hospitalisations and deaths, the ECDC warned.

Could masks be making a comeback over summer? (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

Alain Fischer, who coordinates France’s pandemic vaccine strategy, warned that the country’s hospitalisations had begun to rise, which would likely lead to more intensive care admissions and eventually more deaths.

However, in Germany, virologist Klaus Stohr told the ZDF channel that “nothing dramatic will happen in the intensive care units in hospitals”.

Return of the mask? 

The ECDC called on European countries to “remain vigilant” by maintaining testing and surveillance systems.

“It is expected that additional booster doses will be needed for those groups most at risk of severe disease, in anticipation of future waves,” it added.

Faced with rising cases, last week Italy’s government chose to extend a requirement to wear medical grade FFP2 masks on public transport until September 30.

“I want to continue to recommend protecting yourself by getting a second booster shot,” said Italy’s Health Minister Roberto Speranza, who recently tested positive for Covid.

READ ALSO: Spain to offer fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose to ‘entire population’

Fischer said France had “clearly insufficient vaccination rates” and that a second booster shot was needed.

Germany’s government is waiting on expert advice on June 30 to decide whether to reimpose mandatory mask-wearing rules indoors.

The chairman of the World Medical Association, German doctor Frank Ulrich Montgomery, has recommended a “toolbox” against the Covid wave that includes mask-wearing, vaccination and limiting the number of contacts.

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