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COVID-19

Merkel’s government slams packed Cologne stadium

Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman on Monday said it was "difficult to understand" why local authorities in Cologne allowed 50,000 fans to pack a stadium at the weekend as Germany grapples with soaring coronavirus infections.

Merkel's government slams packed Cologne stadium
FC Köln fans hold scarfs in the air during the match on Saturday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Marius Becker

Images of the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd at Saturday’s first division football match between Cologne and Monchengladbach sparked nationwide headlines, with many commentators despairing at the lack of masks and social distancing.

“At a time when hard-hit regions are cancelling Christmas markets and tough measures are being introduced” the full stadium “is very difficult to understand”, outgoing Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters.

Local officials in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia said Cologne’s full stadium was justified because supporters had to show they were fully vaccinated or recovered before entering (Germany’s so-called 2G rules). 

READ ALSO: Germany sets up crisis team amid calls for new measures

But critics said the crowd size was irresponsible at a time when Germany is buckling under a ferocious coronavirus fourth wave, with many regions running out of intensive care beds as infection rates hit record highs.

The weekend match also coincided with the first reports of suspected cases of the Omicron variant in Germany.

Another Bundesliga game at the weekend, Leipzig versus Leverkusen, was played in an empty stadium because of local coronavirus curbs in the eastern state of Saxony.

Under Germany’s federal system, the country’s 16 regions have significant powers to decide their own coronavirus approach, but Germany’s interior ministry on Monday slammed the patchwork of measures that has emerged.

“This unevenness across different states when it comes to large events, and not just sports, is extremely unsatisfactory,” said Steve Alter, the spokesman for acting Interior Minister Horst Seehofer.

Anger at the Cologne football crowd comes on the heels of widespread condemnation of the city’s carnival celebrations earlier this month, which drew tens of thousands of revellers into the streets.

Germany’s surge in Covid-19 cases comes at an awkward time for Merkel’s government, which is acting in a caretaker capacity before a new coalition government takes over in coming days.

The country registered another 29,364 new cases on Monday, according to the Robert Koch Institute, and another 73 deaths.

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TRAVEL NEWS

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

With the EU changing its Covid recommendations for flights, there is some confusion around whether people boarding a plane in Germany will still need to wear a mask. Here's what we know so far.

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

As of Monday, the aviation safety agency EASA and the EU health authority ECDC no longer recommend mandatory Covid masks in airports and on planes.

However, if masks are compulsory at the point of departure or destination, this should continue to apply in aircraft as well, they say.

So, what does this mean for passengers boarding flights in Germany? At the moment, not very much at all. 

In Germany, the Infection Protection Act still stipulates that masks have to be worn on long-distance trains and planes. Masks are also compulsory on local public transport.

The previous weeks have seen Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP) come out in favour of scrapping compulsory masks – especially on flights.

But so far, nothing concrete has been done to change the Infection Protection Act, which is due to expire on September 23rd. 

READ ALSO: German politicians row over lifting mandatory Covid mask rule

What are the current rules on flights? 

According to the Federal Ministry of Health, masks are compulsory on all flights taking off or landing in Germany.

FFP2 or medical masks must be worn when boarding and disembarking and throughout the flight, though they can be removed when eating and drinking.

Children under the age of six are exempt from the mask-wearing requirement. 

The ministry has argued that the obligation to wear masks also complies with the new EU recommendations. 

What are the rules acros the EU? 

In general, the relaxed EU recommendation does not mean that masks are no longer compulsory on all flights. However, many countries have kept this measure in place as a simple way to reduce infection. 

Europe’s largest low-cost airline, Ryanair, published a list of 14 EU countries in which national laws continue to require the wearing of face masks to prevent the spread of Covid.

Besides Germany, popular tourist destinations such as Spain, Greece, Portugal, Italy and France are included on the list. 

In other EU countries, the airline said it would be dropping mandatory masks on flights, adding that it “welcomed” the relaxed recommendations from the EU health authorities.  

READ ALSO: Will Germany soon get rid of mandatory face masks on public transport?

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