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COVID-19 RULES

EXPLAINED: Germany’s current Covid mask rules

The EU recently recommended that masks no longer be mandatory in air travel - but Germany is not changing those rules, at least for now. Here's what you should know about mask rules in Germany.

Man carrying FFP2 mask in Dresden
A man carries an FFP2 mask along a busy shopping street in Dresden. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sebastian Kahnert

People in Germany have been wearing face coverings in lots of public places for around two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But in April, the mask rules were significantly relaxed.

It means that in Germany you currently don’t have to wear a mask (but can on a voluntary basis) in these places:

  • shops and supermarkets
  • restaurants, cafes and bars 
  • cultural buildings including museums and galleries
  • leisure venues, including gyms and cinemas
  • hairdressers and other body-related services

However, businesses can ask customers or visitors to wear a mask so you may find signs on the door of some venues or facilities. 

Some businesses will have a sign with the word Freiwillig (voluntary) and the mask symbol at their entrance, which means customers are encouraged to wear a mask but are not legally obligated to.

That’s the case at the Kleinmarkthalle in Frankfurt’s city centre as shown in this photo. 

A mask sign in Frankfurt.

Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Frank Rumpenhorst

In Germany you still have to wear a mask in these places:

  • on public transport (all buses, trains and trams) and in stations
  • on flights to and from Germany
  • in hospitals and medical practices including doctors’ surgeries 
  • in care facilities, such as care homes for the elderly or other places where there are vulnerable people

What type of mask is required?

FFP2 masks have become standard in Germany, but it depends on the state or business rules. In some areas, medical masks are sufficient. 

But hasn’t the EU relaxed mask rules for flights?

Yes. However, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control’s (ECDC) move to end mandatory masks on flights earlier this month is only a guideline – and the ultimate decision lies with the country. 

A German Health Ministry spokesman told The Local: “The decision on mandatory masks is made by national authorities. The mandatory mask requirement in aircraft therefore continues to apply on all domestic German routes as well as on flights that take off or land in Germany.

“An FFP2 or medical mask must therefore be worn when boarding and disembarking as well as during the entire flight. This may only be removed when eating and drinking. Exceptions to the mask requirement exist for children under six years of age and, for example, for people who are not allowed to wear a mask for medical reasons.”

READ ALSO: Do people in Germany still have to wear masks on planes?

Has there been any confusion on this?

Apparently so. There have been reports of some airlines not pointing out the rules for mask wearing in Germany. 

On at least two of Swiss Airline’s flights from Hamburg and Berlin to Zurich recently, Swiss cabin staff did not let passengers know about the mask requirement, reported German news site Spiegel. That is despite the rule that all travellers have to wear a medical face mask on all flights to and from Germany.

On the flight from Hamburg to Zurich, an estimated 40 percent of the approximately 200 passengers were travelling without face coverings, Spiegel said. When asked about this, the news site reported that a flight attendant said: “We don’t have a mask requirement at Swiss anymore.”

The Swiss airline, which belongs to the Lufthansa Group, lifted the requirement for masks on board at the beginning of April. However, it has to comply with the Covid regulations of the countries it flies to.

A sign telling people to wear a mask at Hamburg airport in February.

A sign telling people to wear a mask at Hamburg airport in February. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jonas Walzberg

One of the problems with the latest round of rules is that the legal situation in Europe varies – while countries such as France, Poland and Switzerland have abolished the obligation to wear masks in the cabin, it remains in force in Germany, and some other places including Spain.

Italy also requires FFP2 masks to be worn until June 15th at the earliest. In total, 14 EU countries still require people on flights to wear masks. 

A spokesperson for Swiss Airlines told Spiegel: “The obligation to wear a mask applies on flights to destinations where it is mandatory. Thus, for example, our guests have to wear the mask on flights to Germany, but not on flights to Switzerland. Our aircrafts are registered in Switzerland, so Swiss legislation also applies on board.”

READ ALSO: Do flights to and from Switzerland require face masks?

So will masks remain mandatory on flights – and on other transport in Germany?

Politicians have been speaking out recently about the possibility of lifting the mandatory mask rule in Germany. 

Germany’s Transport Minister Volker Wissing, for instance, said that he supported getting rid of the mandatory requirement to wear a face mask on public transport in Germany, as well on planes.

But the Health Ministry told The Local that the mask wearing obligation will remain in place as part of the Infection Protection Act until at least September 23rd 2022 – unless the rules are “adapted to the situation”. 

READ ALSO: German politicians row over lifting mandatory Covid mask rule

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COVID-19 RULES

Bavaria signals end to compulsory masks on public transport

Bavaria's state premier Markus Söder (CSU) has announced plans for a "prompt" end to mandatory masks on buses and trains.

Bavaria signals end to compulsory masks on public transport

If infection levels and hospitalisations remain low, the end of the mask-wearing rule could come as soon as December or January.

“We are convinced that the mask requirement in public transport could also be phased out either in mid-December or early next year, if the numbers remain reasonably stable and there are no new mutations,” Söder explained on Monday, following a meeting with the CSU executive committee. 

A decision on when to end the measure would be made “promptly”, he added.

The CSU politician had said last week that the sinking infection rates meant that compulsory masks were no longer appropriate and that the mandate could be changed to a recommendation. 

No set date for change

The latest version of Bavaria’s Infection Protection Act – which lays out an obligation to wear masks on public transport as one of the few remaining Covid rules – is currently due to expire on December 9th.

State ministers could decide whether to let obligatory masks on buses and trains lapse on this date as early as next week, or they could decide to initially extend the legislation and set an alternative date for ending the rule.

Regardless of their decision, FFP2 masks will continue to be mandatory on long-distance public transport until at least April next year, when the nationwide Infection Protection Act is due to expire.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Germany’s new Covid-19 rules from October

Speaking to Süddeutsche Zeitung on Monday after the meeting of the Council of Ministers, Florian Herrmann (CSU), head of the State Chancellery, confirmed that Covid-19 had been discussed in passing.

However, no decisions or discussions were made on how to proceed after the expiry of the regulation, he said.

According to Herrmann, the fact that Covid was no longer the “dominant topic” in the cabinet under “enormous tension” shows “that we are returning to normality” in a gradual transition from pandemic to endemic. 

As of Wednesday, the 7-day incidence of Covid infections per 100,000 people stood at 108 in Bavaria, down from 111 the previous day. However, experts have cast doubt on how meaningful the incidence is in light of the fact that fewer people are taking tests.

Nevertheless, the 133 hospital beds occupied by Covid patients in the Free State falls well below the 600 threshold for a ‘red alert’. With Omicron causing less severe courses of illness than previous variants, politicians have increasingly focussed on hospitalisation statistics to gauge the severity of the situation.

‘A risk-benefit trade-off’

Bavaria is the second federal state to announce plans to relax its mask-wearing rules in recent weeks.

On November 14th, the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein announced that it would be ending obligatory FFP2 masks on public transport and urged other states to do the same. From January 2023, masks on public transport will only be recommended rather than mandated for passengers on local buses and trains. 

However, the Federal Ministry of Health has urged states not to loosen their rules too quickly.

Given that infection rates are likely to spike again in winter, “there’s no basis for loosening restrictions”, said Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD).

Physicians are also split on whether an end to masks on public transport is appropriate.

READ ALSO: Will Germany get rid of masks on public transport?

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) speaks at the German Hospital Day in Düsseldorf on November 14th. Lauterbach is against the lifting of the mask-wearing rule. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Roberto Pfeil

Christoph Spinner, a virologist at the University Hospital in Munich, told Süddeutsche Zeitung he believed it was time to put the decision on mask-wearing back into the hands of individuals.

“Why not? The incidences are low, the danger of Covid-19 has dropped significantly and mortality has also decreased,” he said. 

But the Bavarian General Practitioners’ Association spoke out against the move, arguing that – unlike a trip to a restaurant or cinema – people often have no choice but to travel on public transport.

“If the obligation to wear a mask in public transport is maintained, this will help to protect against a Covid infection on the way to work by bus or train – especially in view of the discontinuation of the obligation to isolate in the event of a Covid infection,” they explained.

Bavaria is one of four states to have recently ended mandatory isolation for people who test positive for Covid. Baden-Württemberg and Schleswig-Holstein both scrapped their isolation mandate last week, while Hesse removed its obligation on Tuesday. 

READ ALSO: Four German states call for end to mandatory Covid isolation

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