German politicians row over tougher mask rules for autumn

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German politicians row over tougher mask rules for autumn
A passenger wears a face mask in Cologne. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Roberto Pfeil

Summer is not yet in full swing yet - but German politicians are already caught in a row over what Covid regulations will be tightened when autumn arrives.


It emerged earlier this week that Health Minister Karl Lauterbach, of the Social Democrats (SPD), is considering how to adapt the Covid measures in autumn, with a view to making it possible to reintroduce compulsory indoor mask-wearing.

That would mean masks could once again be mandatory in places like shops and restaurants when not sitting at a table.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Germany’s current Covid mask rules

But the SPD's coalition partner, the Free Democrats (FDP), are already digging their heels in. 


Justice Minister Marco Buschmann, of the FDP, slammed Lauterbach's move to talk about changing the rules before a proper assessment of the situation. 

"I am in favour of following the law," Buschmann told the Funke-Zeitung. "That is what an evaluation provides for." 

The results of the evaluation should "absolutely" be taken into account "before we hastily commit to individual measures", the FDP politician said.

Under the Infection Protection Act, ‘basic protection’ measures apply, with mask-wearing mandatory only in places like public transport, on flights to and from Germany, in hospitals, medical practices, and care facilities.

The law expires on September 23rd this year. Lauterbach told ZDF on Wednesday that his ministry was already planning for possible Covid outbreaks in autumn, and he said it was "absolutely necessary" to consider making masks mandatory indoors again.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Germany’s current Covid mask rules

FDP deputy leader Wolfgang Kubicki said tougher Covid restrictions in autumn should only be possible under strict conditions - and that scientific evidence had to show they were needed.

"There will not be another autumn and winter in which fundamental rights are restricted because of a haze of data fog," the Bundestag vice president told DPA.

He said the FDP's Covid policy, which involved pushing for Covid restrictions to be dropped earlier than coalition partners the SPD and Greens, was working out. 

"At present, it can be seen that the current course, which the FDP has pushed through under fierce hostility, has not led to the predicted collapse of the health system," he said. 


Kubicki added that "a number of mistakes" had been made in Germany's coronavirus policy in past two years. He said school closures, "inhumane" isolation of residents in old people's homes, and the travel restrictions, that meant people in Germany could only travel a maximum of 15km from their home at one point, were some of the errors. 

Teachers hope for masks in schools

However, some German teachers take a different view.

The President of the German Teachers' Association, Heinz-Peter Meidinger, recently advocated for mandatory masks in schools to be imposed again.

"Politicians are once again not doing their homework on the subject of pandemics and schools," he told the Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland (RND).

He said masks could be "a decisive factor" in keeping schools open in the event of a Covid autumn wave, and that the government needs to amend the Infection Protection Act.

The chairperson of the Education and Science Union, Maike Finnern, has a similar view.

"A good testing strategy and the wearing of masks in the buildings can also play a decisive role in the future," Finnern said. "To this end, the legal basis must now be created, for example, for mandatory masks, so that measures can take effect quickly and with legal certainty if necessary,".


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