German state sets out plan to end Covid tests in schools

The northern Germany state of Lower Saxony has announced that daily tests and masks are due to end in schools in the coming weeks.

A Covid self-testing kit lies on a desk at a school in Hildesheim
A Covid self-testing kit lies on a desk at a school in Hildesheim, Lower Saxony. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Julian Stratenschulte

Covid rules are set to be relaxed for pupils in Lower Saxony in the coming weeks and months.

In a phased plan, both the daily compulsory testing and the compulsory wearing of masks in class are to be abolished, the state government announced on Thursday.

“We are making everyday school life easier, but without throwing safety out of the window,” said education minister Grant Hendrik Tonne (SPD).

From March 7th onwards, compulsory testing for pupils is to be reduced to three tests per week instead of five, with the exception of the first week and a half after the Easter holidays, when the usual daily tests will be carried out.

By the beginning of May, compulsory testing will be completely abolished.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: What you need to know about Germany’s Covid reopening plan

In day-care centres, compulsory testing will continue until March 20th, after which it will be extended or abolished.

Compulsory tests in nurseries came into force in Lower Saxony just a few days ago. Under the new rules, children from the age of three must test negative three times a week in order to be able to go to their daycare centre. 

From March 21st, pupils in primary and special-needs schools will be allowed to dispense with masks indoors, with other schoolchildren following suit by the beginning of May.

However, pupils can continue to wear a mask beyond that date if they wish.

‘Cautious relaxation’ 

It is unclear at present whether other states are planning to end testing and masks in schools, but the move appears to have the cautious support of the federal government.

On Thursday afternoon, Education Minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger spoke out in favour of a careful lifting of Covid measures in schools.

“Relaxations in schools must come,” the FDP politician told the DPA. “But we should be cautious so as not to jeopardise classroom teaching by increasing infection figures.” 

In her opinion, rules should relaxed if regional infections are dropping and vaccination rates in the area are high. 

“This involves, for example, reduced testing and the removal of masks,” she said. “We need to pave the way back to normality for children.”

But Stark-Watzinger also called for precautions for the new school year.

Accessible vaccination offers at schools are also needed in spring and summer, she said, adding that the digitisation of schools needed to be urgently accelerated. 

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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?