Germany scrambles to decide on future Covid rules amid backlash

With current Covid legislation due to expire on Saturday, the German government is scrabbling to agree on a paired-back range of measures to replace it.

German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach
German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) votes on his own proposals to replace current Covid rules on March 18th in the Bundestag. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler

The government’s controversial plans for a Covid-19 ‘freedom day’ are to set to pass into law on Friday, ahead of the expiry of the current Infection Protection Act, which forms the basis for current measures.

On Friday morning, the Bundestag voted on the planned new legal basis for the rules, ahead of a special discussion on the measures in the Bundesrat (the upper house of parliament) on Friday afternoon. 

The plans for the law include only a few general requirements for masks and tests in facilities for vulnerable groups. While masks are set to continue to be compulsory on local public transport, the proposals foresee the requirement being dropped in retail and on long-distance buses and trains. 

READ ALSO: What we know so far about Germany’s ‘freedom day’ plans

According to a recent survey conducted by public broadcaster ARD, almost two-thirds of Germans are opposed to getting rid of the general mask requirement for public indoor spaces, while just over a third are in favour of it. 

In an attempt to brush off criticism that the measures are too sparse, the bill put forward by Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) and Justice Minister Marco Buschmann (FDP) allows for some addition rules in so-called Covid ‘hotspots’.

With the current version of the Infection Protection Act due to expire on Saturday, the government is under immense pressure to determine the replacement rules that are due to come into force on Sunday.

Numerous federal states, however, still want to make use of an envisaged transition period and maintain current rules, such as 3G in bars and restaurants, until April 2nd.

‘Practically unworkable’

In a special summit for federal and state leaders on Thursday, the heads of the federal states aired their criticisms of the future framework but were unable to reach a firm conclusion on how to proceed in spring. 

North Rhine-Westphalia’s Hendrik Wüst (CDU), who chairs the Conference of State Premiers, called the planned new regulations “legally uncertain and practically unworkable”. This applies above all to the regulation on “hotspots” in critical locations, he said. 

Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD), meanwhile, defended the plans. The streamlined set of rules was a “legal basis on which to build for the future”, he claimed. 

READ ALSO: German states clash with government over new Covid protection laws

Though the bill on future Covid rules doesn’t need to be approved by the Bundesrat, it could potentially be sent to the mediation committee with an absolute majority of 35 votes. 

The Bundesrat is comprised of the representatives of the federal states, who could choose to voice their disapproval of the new measures in this way.  

At the same time, politicians are under extreme time pressure to create a legal foundation for future Covid measures. If the Infection Protection Act is allowed to expire on Saturday with no follow-up legislation, all of Germany’s Covid-19 measures will essentially become invalid overnight.

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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?