Germany’s Covid curbs ‘not enough’, warns Health Minister

Germany's health minister warned Wednesday that current coronavirus curbs will not suffice in preventing a wave of new infections of the highly transmissible variant Omicron.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach
Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) speaks at a press conference on December 22nd, 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

Europe’s biggest economy on Tuesday shuttered nightclubs and forced sports competitions behind closed doors. It also limited private gatherings to 10 vaccinated people — or just two households if an unvaccinated person is present.

The rules came on top of restrictions already hitting the unimmunised who are barred from shops, restaurants and cultural events.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The rules and official advice for Christmas and New Year in Germany

But Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said they may have to be toughened up further

“The protective measures that we are currently using to largely successfully counter the wave of Delta infections will not be enough to prevent a significant rise in Omicron cases,” he said.

“I do not believe the drop in the overall case numbers to be sustainable. And we’ll have to react to that,” he added.

Germany is currently reporting a falling trend in daily new infections, but Lauterbach said the true number of cases could be much higher because fewer tests were being done over the Christmas holiday season.

The real incidence is two or three times as high as the current rate of 205 cases per 100,000 people over seven days reported Wednesday, the minister said. 

READ ALSO: Prevalence of Omicron in Germany unclear, cautions Health Minister

A sharp jump was expected “within a short period of time”, he said, as data over the festive season is fed into the system and as the proportion of Omicron cases grows.

The startlingly rapid spread of Omicron has forced many countries to reintroduce painful curbs despite their hefty economic and social consequences.

France on Wednesday reported a record of 200,000 new cases in a day, with Health Minister Oliver Veran describing Omicron as a “landslide”.

Like Germany, France has been urging the population to get their booster jabs to improve antibody defences against Omicron.

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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?