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SCHOOLS

German experts divided over state plans to relax Covid mask rules in schools

Some German states are allowing pupils in schools to ditch face masks. But there's a row over whether that will put children at risk and fuel a Covid spike.

Children wearing masks at a school in Hamburg in August.
Children wearing masks at a school in Hamburg in August. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christian Charisius

Germany is still in the grip of the Covid pandemic, with scientists warning that autumn will see a rise in infections. 

However, some German states are already relaxing the Covid mask requirement in schools.

In Berlin, the mandatory mask rule was lifted in schools on Monday for classes up to the sixth grade. It’s already the case in Brandenburg. And in Bavaria, too, the mask requirement was removed in classrooms on Monday. 

In Baden-Württemberg and Saxony, a similar step is being considered. In Saarland, masks at schools have no longer been a requirement since Friday.

Children can choose to continue wearing a mask, but it is no longer mandatory. 

READ ALSO: Three German states relax Covid mask rules in schools

Yet a row has broken out over the easing of the rules. A petition against the end of the mask requirement at Berlin primary schools had gathered almost 1,900 signatures by Monday.

“The mask is a minor evil compared to possible harm from infection,” Julia Noack, initiator of the petition, told DPA, pointing out that youngsters cannot be vaccinated yet. “At school, our children under 12 are not protected by anything else.”

Distance between pupils is virtually impossible to keep, and dozens of children sit in rooms together for hours, Noack said. 

The German Teachers’ Association (Deutscher Lehrerverband) has said it is sceptical about the move, while the education union VBE has also called for caution.

According to data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), Covid-19 is particularly prevalent among children and teenagers up to the age of 19.

But other experts say it’s about time that children stopped having to deal with severe rules like face masks since they are generally at a low risk of suffering severe illness from Covid.

The President of the Professional Association of Paediatricians and Youth Physicians, Thomas Fischbach, said he saw no reason why primary school-age pupils should continue to wear masks in class, especially since they contribute less to the incidence of infection than teenagers and adults.

The decision has to be based on the incidence rates and the age of children, he said. It’s not acceptable that the youngest children should continue to be expected to wear masks “in order to show consideration for those who refuse to be vaccinated”.

President of the German Medical Association Klaus Reinhardt has a similar view. He told Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland: “It’s completely unreasonable that children and adolescents have to wear a mask for hours in class, while adults can go to the pub in the evening without a mask.”

READ ALSO: The Covid rules you need to know for the new school term

Meanwhile, Minister for Family Affairs, Christine Lambrecht (SPD) welcomed the relaxation of compulsory masks in schools.

‘Quite stupid’

However, virologist Melanie Brinkmann of the Braunschweig Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research thinks it’s too early to get get rid of mandatory masks in schools because not enough people are vaccinated against Covid. 

“If you want to abolish something whose benefit has been scientifically proven and that costs almost nothing, you can do that,” she told the Rheinische Post. “The only question is whether it is wise. With the high number of non-vaccinated people, and this includes children, I think this decision is premature – and frankly also quite stupid.”

The question of the risk to children and young people from Covid-19 has long been the subject of controversy.

Advocates of stricter safety measures in schools argue that children could also become seriously ill and point to possible long-term consequences like Long Covid.

What’s the Covid situation in Germany?

On Monday Germany reported 3,088 Covid cases within 24 hours seven deaths. Numbers are often lower after weekends due to delays in reporting. 

The 7-day incidence stood at 64.7 cases per 100,000 people. A week ago it was around 61. 

Though almost two-thirds of the population, and three-quarter of adults, are now fully vaccinated, German health experts say the large number of people who are still unvaccinated and an increase in socialising indoors are likely to drive infections up once more when the weather becomes wetter and cooler.

READ ALSO: Is Germany set for a spike in Covid cases this autumn?

Vocabulary

Removal/abolition – (die) Abschaffung

Evil – (das) Übel

Mask requirement/obligation – (die) Maskenpflicht 

Young people/the youth/adolescents – (die) Jugendliche

Welcomed – begrüßt

We’re aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.

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COVID-19 RULES

Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

German health ministers say that tougher Covid restrictions should come back into force if a serious wave emerges in autumn.

Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

Following a video meeting on Monday, the health ministers of Germany’s 16 states said tougher restrictions should be imposed again if they are needed. 

“The corona pandemic is not over yet – we must not be deceived by the current declining incidences,” said Saxony-Anhalt’s health minister Petra Grimm-Benne, of the Social Democrats, who currently chairs the Conference of Health Ministers (GMK).

According to the GMK, new virus variants are expected to appear in autumn and winter. Over the weekend, federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) also warned that the more dangerous Delta variant could return to Germany. “That is why the federal Ministry of Health should draw up a master plan to combat the corona pandemic as soon as possible and coordinate it with the states,” Grimm-Benne said.

Preparations should also include an amendment of the Infection Protection Act, ministers urged. They want to see the states given powers to react to the infection situation in autumn and winter. They called on the government to initiate the legislative process in a timely manner, and get the states actively involved.

The current Infection Protection Act expires on September 23rd this year. Germany has loosened much of its Covid restrictions in the last months, however, face masks are still compulsory on public transport as well as on planes. 

READ ALSO: Do people in Germany still have to wear Covid masks on planes?

The health ministers said that from autumn onwards, it should be possible for states to make masks compulsory indoors if the regional infection situation calls for it. Previously, wearing a Covid mask was obligatory in Germany when shopping and in restaurants and bars when not sitting at a table. 

Furthermore, the so-called 3G rule for accessing some venues and facilities – where people have to present proof of vaccination, recovery, or a negative test – should be implemented again if needed, as well as other infection protection rules, the ministers said. 

Bavaria’s health minister Klaus Holetschek, of the CSU, welcomed the ministers’ unanimous call for a revision of the Infection Protection Act. “The states must be able to take all necessary infection protection measures quickly, effectively, and with legal certainty,” he said.

North Rhine-Westphalia’s health minister Karl-Josef Laumann (CDU) warned that no one should “lull themselves into a false sense of security”.

“We must now prepare for the colder season and use the time to be able to answer important questions about the immunity of the population or the mechanisms of infection chains,” he said.

On Tuesday, Germany reported 86,253 Covid infections within the latest 24 hour period, as well as 215 Covid-related deaths. The 7-day incidence stood at 437.6 infections per 100,000 people. However, experts believe there could be twice as many infections because lots of cases go unreported. 

READ ALSO: Five things to know about the Covid pandemic in Germany right now

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