German politicians row over lifting mandatory Covid mask rule
There's been strong pushback to the German Transport Minister's call to drop the mask obligation on planes and public transport in Germany.
Some countries - including neighbouring France - are ending the rule to wear face coverings on public transport, and make it voluntary.
But Germany is caught in a row about whether to follow this path - or keep mandatory face masks in place.
Transport Minister Volker Wissing, of the Free Democrats (FDP), said on Thursday that he supported getting rid of the mandatory requirement to wear a face mask on buses, trains and trams throughout Germany - as well on planes.
But some believe this is the wrong move.
Green party health expert Janosch Dahmen said: "It would be unreasonable to lift the mask requirement in public transport already.
"We need protective masks on trains and buses for a safe summer. The pandemic may be out of some people's minds, but it has not disappeared from our lives."
Health Minister Karl Lauterbach, of the Social Democrats (SPD), tweeted: "With up to 150 corona deaths every day and the incidence still very high, there is no scope for dispensing with masks in public transport. Harmonisation makes sense when the pandemic is over. That is not yet the case."
Wissing's call to change infection protection laws and make face masks voluntary came after two EU agencies earlier this week said they recommended the lifting of mandatory masks on air travel throughout EU countries from May 16th.
However, if masks are compulsory in public transport at the point of departure or destination, the rule continues to apply in aircraft as well. This means that people will still have to wear masks on planes coming or going to Germany.
Dahmen said he could not see a contradiction between European and German rules. "The European recommendations explicitly include a national mask obligation," he said, adding that the current pandemic situation gave no reason for changes to the Infection Protection Act.
In view of the new EU recommendations, Wissing said that a uniform approach should be taken throughout Europe, and that the mask requirement should be lifted, especially in air travel.
The nationwide obligation to wear masks in planes and long-distance transport is written into the Infection Protection Act which is valid until at least September 23rd. Masks are also compulsory on local bus and train services, however this rule is ordered by the states.
'Wrong signals at the wrong time'
In response to a question, the Transport Ministry said it would now approach the Health Ministry with a view to the possibility of suspending the obligation to wear masks in planes and long-distance trains by means of a government regulation with the approval of the Bundesrat.
The transport industry is in favour of an end to compulsory masks since the rule no longer applies at events, or in restaurants and shops across Germany.
The National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians (KBV) is also in favour of ending the mask requirement. Andreas Gassen, head of the KBV, said that there was high immunity in the population, and for many people the pandemic is "over".
But the chairperson of state transport ministers, Bremen's Senator Maike Schaefer (Greens), slammed Wissing's initiative as being the "wrong signals at the wrong time".
She said the upcoming €9 monthly travel ticket could also lead to overcrowding on certain routes this summer. "To abolish compulsory masking at that time, I think, is counterproductive," said Schaefer.
Germany on Friday reported 68,999 Covid infections within the latest 24 hour period and 164 deaths. But experts believe many cases are going underreported. Nearly 76 percent of the population has had two Covid jabs, and around 60 percent have received their booster vaccination.