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What are Germany’s new Covid mask rules?

Germany is on the cusp of an overhaul of its mask-wearing rules, with several shops and businesses indicating that they're happy for customers to leave their masks at home. Here are the places you will - and won't - need to cover your mouth and nose in future.

Berlin bar Covid mask
A mask lies on a table in a bar in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Annette Riedl

On April 2nd, the current set of Covid protection measures will expire, leaving only a handful of restrictions in place.

One of the major changes – along with the end of 2G and 3G rules – will be the end of mask-wearing rules in shops and other businesses. 

In future, there will be no general obligation to cover your nose and mouth when entering supermarkets and other shops – but it’s possible that some retailers may decide to put their own mask-wearing rules in place. 

This is, at least, what Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) is hoping for.

Having drafted the new version of the Infection Protection Act along with Justice Minister Marco Buschmann (FDP), Lauterbach is now calling on retail chains to take matters into their own hands and ask customers to wear masks even after the legal basis for this has changed.

He’ll be disappointed to find out that several major German retailers have already declared that they have no intention of keeping masks in place from April 2nd.

The places where you’ll be able to shop “ohne Maske” include:

  • Shopping centres run by ECE, including Berlin’s Gesundbrunnen, Hamlin’s Stadtgalerie and the Olympia shopping centre in Munich
  • MediaMarkt and Saturn
  • Thalia
  • Deichmann
  • Ikea
  • C&A
  • Douglas
  • Ernsting’s family
  • Gerry Weber
  • Woolworth
  • Aldi 
  • Edeka (from April 4th)

READ ALSO: OPINION: The worst of both worlds – Germany’s coronavirus policy pleases no-one

What about other shops?

As mentioned, the law is changing to end the general obligation to wear masks in retail outlets. Nevertheless, one or two shop owners may decide they want to keep this in place to protect their staff. However, this group will probably be in the minority.

Another thing to consider is that the new law contains a clause allowing certain regions to define themselves as “Covid hotspots” and keep some rules like masks in shops in place for a bit longer. 

The definition of a hotspot is a bit woolly at present, but the Infection Protection Act says it should be a region where hospitals are under severe pressure. So far, Mecklenburg Western-Pomerania and Hamburg have signalled that they’ll take advantage of this clause. 

Where else can people go without a mask?

Almost everywhere. Primarily, the new regulation is aimed solely at vulnerable groups, so you’ll still be expected to wear your mask on a visit to the GP or hospital and in nursing and care homes. In many other public venues, mask-wearing rules will end. 

In practice, that means that leisure venues like gyms, cinemas and museums will no longer require customers to wear masks. It also means that people will no longer have to put on their masks when entering and leaving bars, cafes and restaurants – or when heading to the toilets in these venues. 

Kino International Mask wearing

A sign in Kino International, Berlin, tells customers to wear a nose-and-mouth covering. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Fabian Sommer

The general mask-wearing obligation will also be dropped in the workplace – though employers will be required to come up with their own concept for keeping their staff healthy, which could include masks in some instances. If that’s the case, they will be expected to supply their employees with the masks they need.

Parents and children may also be relieved to find out that the mask-wearing rule will be dropped in schools and nurseries. 

READ ALSO: How Germany is preparing to end ‘working from home’ rule

What about on public transport?

This is one major exception to the rules. According to the latest version of the Infection Protection Act, people will still be expected to cover their nose and mouth on local trains, buses and trams. 

There were early rumours that the government was considering changing the rules on long-distance transport, but it looks like that has now been overturned, meaning passengers on long-distance buses and trains will also need to wear a mask. The same will apply on flights. 

What type of mask is required?

States may decide to write their own rules on this, and FFP2 masks have become pretty standard in Germany in any case.

However, there’s nothing concrete in the Infection Protection Act, so people who want to be more environmentally friendly may be able to switch back to the reusable cloth masks once again. 

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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?