Bavaria’s health minister calls for extension of mask requirement

Klaus Holetschek (CSU), the health minister of Bavaria, has criticised the early end to Covid restrictions as well as the unclear 'hotspot' rules.

Bavaria's health minister calls for extension of mask requirement
Klaus Holetschek (CSU), Gesundheitsminister von Bayern, nimmt nach einer Sitzung des bayerischen Kabinetts an einer Pressekonferenz teil. (zu dpa «Bayerns Gesundheitsminister Holetschek positiv auf Corona getestet») +++ dpa-Bildfunk +++

Following the so-called ‘freedom day’ on March 20th, most German states have been following a transitional phase-out of Covid restrictions, meaning that rules such as indoor mask wearing and 2G or 3G access rules for restaurants and bars will continue to be in force until the beginning of April.

But Bavaria’s Health Minister, Klaus Holetschek (CSU), who has previously criticised the early relaxing of Covid measures, has now called for an extension of mask wearing in Bavaria for another four weeks.

READ ALSO: German ‘freedom day’ arrives but states delay end to restrictions

In an interview with the Augsburger Allgemeine Newspaper, Holetschek criticised the early ending of Covid restrictions and said that “the whole of Germany is one hotspot…almost everyone outside the government quarter in Berlin has already realised this”. For this reason, he called for extending the obligation to wear masks in indoor areas in Bavaria for another four weeks.

Unclear hotspot rules

The Covid ‘hotspot regulation’ is part of the new legal framework which allows states to reintroduce additional measures – such as having to show vaccination status or proof of recovery to visit restaurants and bars – if the health system becomes overloaded or dangerous new virus variants are detected. But there are currently no threshold values for when this rule should take effect.

Bavaria’s health minister also criticised the lack of clarity with the rules and called for nationwide uniform criteria for the application of the hotspot rule, or an extension of the transition period. “The hotspot rules are far too woolly and do not allow us to implement them with legal certainty,” said Holetschek.

It is also disputed whether it is legally possible to declare an entire federal state a hotspot. “There is a big gap between what Health Minister Karl Lauterbach and Justice Minister Marco Buschmann say,” Holetschek said.

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

Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, for example, has already declared the whole state a hotspot, while states such as Baden-Wurttemberg and Lower Saxony see no grounds for a hotspot regulation at the moment, despite the record number of new infections.

On Monday, the state health ministers will meet Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) to discuss the hotspot rules in more detail and to clarify at what point the rule can take effect for regions with high Covid numbers once the transition period is over.

The criticism and reluctance to reduce Covid restrictions comes after the nationwide number of Covid infections detected since the beginning of the pandemic passed the 20 million mark over the weekend.

READ ALSO: Germany logs 1.5 million weekly Covid infections as Omicron subtype spreads

On Sunday, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) gave the figure of new infections per 100,000 inhabitants per week on Sunday as 1723.8, slightly lower than the previous day (1758.4), although the new figure does not include data from Baden-Württemberg and Brandenburg.

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German states likely to keep mask mandate on public transport

Health ministers in Germany's 16 states say that the requirement to wear face masks on local public transport should remain in place throughout autumn and winter.

German states likely to keep mask mandate on public transport

As part of Germany’s planned Covid regulations from October onwards, people will have to wear FFP2 masks on long-distance transport, such as trains.

However, states are able to decide themselves on any mask requirements for local buses, trains, and trams. 

On Monday, state health ministers agreed that they were in favour of keeping the mask mandate on public transport across Germany.

According to the health ministry in Saxony-Anhalt, which currently holds the presidency of the Conference of Health Ministers, the aim is to have uniform rules in all states when it comes to masks on transit. 

It comes after some people raised concerns that Germany would see a patchwork of different rules across the states.

As The Local has been reporting, the Bundestag last week passed a set of Covid regulations that will be in place from October 1st until April 7th 2023.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS – Germany’s new Covid-19 rules for autumn

The plan includes some measures that will apply nationwide, while the states can decide on regional requirements depending on the pandemic situation.

Across Germany, FFP2 masks will be mandatory on long-distance trains and buses as well as in health and care settings, such as GP offices. There will no longer be a requirement to wear masks on planes in Germany.

Approval of the legal framework is still needed from the Bundesrat, which represents the states. That is expected to take place on Friday.