Why some German students are facing a ‘beard ban’

A 'ban' on full beards at a German medical university to help limit the spread of Covid has caused a stir - but it's not all it seems.

An FFP2 mask. Medical students have been urged to get rid of beards so the mask fits better.
An FFP2 mask. Medical students have been urged to get rid of beards so the mask fits better. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Karl-Josef Hildenbrand

People in Germany have dealt with several strict rules aimed at slowing the spread of Covid-19 since the pandemic began, including having to wear face masks in public areas.

But getting rid of beards to make sure the face mask fits is one of the more obscure restrictions.

Yet many people would argue that it makes sense in the context. Medical students at the Greifswald University Medical Centre in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, northern Germany, recently received an email detailing an unusual measure.

They were sent a picture, that originally comes from the US Centre for Disease Control (CDC), with a graphic that shows which beard forms are hygiene-compliant (like a moustache) – and which are not (a full beard). The email was sent out to clarify the compatibility of facial hair and FFP2 masks.

The CDC facial hair graphic sent to students at the University of Greifswald.

The CDC facial hair graphic sent to students at the University of Greifswald. Picture courtesy of the University of Greifswald.


The rule has sparked an outcry among some students, and online. German daily Bild, for instance, ran a story with the tag: “New Corona rule insanity” and the headline: “Ban on full beard at German university!”

For some students, the restrictions are a step too far. 

“I think it is simply disproportionate,” one medical student told the regional Ostsee Zeitung.

They said medical students are already tested against Covid before every practical lesson, adding:  “Moreover, most of us are already fully vaccinated or boosted.”

READ ALSO: German hospitals ‘won’t get overwhelmed in Omicron wave’

But Professor Dr Klaus Hahnenkamp, head of the crisis management team, said it was unavoidable. 

“We wear the FFP2 mask to protect ourselves. And that is only possible if it is tightly fitted to the face,” Hahnenkampf told the Ostsee-Zeitung (OZ). 

He said the measure had been in force among staff for some time.

“In the hospital sector, encroachments on personal rights are unavoidable when it comes to the safety of patients and medical staff,” he said.

Moreover, the illustration on beards from the CDC was not made specifically for the Covid pandemic. According to the US broadcaster NBC (who fact checked the origin of the infographic when it surfaced in February 2020), it dates back to 2017. 

The Local approached the University Medical Centre for a further comment.

In a statement, Dr Hahnenkamp, told The Local that in accordance with university rules, all students have been instructed to wear FFP2 masks in face-to-face courses and internships since since November.

“On 27th January 2022, a new email reminder was sent to students to ensure that they wear a tight-fitting mask during block practical training and bedside teaching.

“Students have patient contact in both the group work experience sessions and bedside teaching. Students who do not wear a tight-fitting mask are to be excluded from the lessons by the responsible course leader.

“This regulation applies to all staff in University Medicine. The international graphic is used to illustrate to beard wearers which variations allow FFP2 masks to be worn safely.”

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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?