Germany mulls making masks mandatory ‘from October to Easter’

The German government is currently drawing up plans to tackle the spread of Covid in the winter. One idea is to make mask wearing mandatory indoors for six months of the year, according to a newspaper report.

Germany mulls making masks mandatory ‘from October to Easter’
A shop in Berlin reminds customers to put on an FFP2 mask in February 2022. Photo: dpa-Zentralbild | Monika Skolimowska

Plans being intensively discussed by the German Chancellery could see people being told to wear masks in all indoor public spaces during the colder half of the year in a so-called “O-bis-O” (Oktober bis Ostern) scheme, Die Welt newspaper reported on Friday.

The idea is to make masks compulsory during the winter months when Covid cases have been higher since the beginning of the pandemic. Advocates of the plan reportedly hope that it will not only slow the spread of Covid but also hinder other lung infections from spreading at a time of year when flu infections are typically high.

The wording would copy the vocabulary of road rules, which require Germans to put on winter tires between October and Easter.

The rules would likely apply in restaurants, bars and shops. It is unclear whether they would be imposed again in schools and kindergartens.

Currently mask wearing is only obligatory on public transport and in medical and care institutions.

The reported plan could be put into a new version of the Infection Protection Act which is set to expire in September.

However, the government is likely to wait on the findings of a scientific commission before it decides which rules to put into the next version of the act, with the commission tasked with telling the government by the end of the month which restrictions have been effective.

The government has so far refused to officially comment on the Die Welt report.

7-point plan for autumn

Speaking on Friday, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach presented his seven-point plan for the autumn when Covid cases are expected to rise, but he made no mention of a possible six-month mask wearing rule.

Lauterbach’s announcement remained thin on detail but included a pledge to use three different types of vaccine to make sure that people received doses that would best protect them.

Other points included developing hygiene concepts for care homes to try and prevent outbreaks among vulnerable residents and a pledge to do everything possible to try and avoid school closures.

“This won’t be a normal autumn,” Lauterbach said, but he stated that ​​”we want to go into it better than we were able to last year and the year before that.”

He added that the key points of a new Infection Protection Act would be published before the Bundestag goes into its summer recess next month.

READ ALSO: German cities call for ‘quick decisions’ on Covid measures for summer

Member comments

  1. What utter BS as an idea. So people have to go to Discos & Concerts indoors & wear masks constantly, but if you eat a meal you naturally can take your mask off for the whole time!
    And of course the Great God Football, being open air, will be fine because people crushed together & shouting into each other’s faces is TOTALLY DIFFERENT!
    I give up with these Government types, they all have no clue.

  2. Pingback: Anonymous
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Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

A resurgence of Covid-19 cases in Europe, this time driven by new, fast-spreading Omicron subvariants, is once again threatening to disrupt people's summer plans.

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

Several Western European nations have recently recorded their highest daily case numbers in months, due in part to Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5.

The increase in cases has spurred calls for increased vigilance across a continent that has relaxed most if not all coronavirus restrictions.

The first resurgence came in May in Portugal, where BA.5 propelled a wave that hit almost 30,000 cases a day at the beginning of June. That wave has since started to subside, however.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: German Health Ministry lays out autumn Covid plan

Italy recorded more than 62,700 cases on Tuesday, nearly doubling the number from the previous week, the health ministry said. 

Germany meanwhile reported more than 122,000 cases on Tuesday. 

France recorded over 95,000 cases on Tuesday, its highest daily number since late April, representing a 45-percent increase in just a week.

Austria this Wednesday recorded more than 10,000 for the first time since April.

READ ALSO: Italy’s transport mask rule extended to September as Covid rate rises

Cases have also surged in Britain, where there has been a seven-fold increase in Omicron reinfection, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The ONS blamed the rise on the BA.4 and BA.5 variants, but also said Covid fell to the sixth most common cause of death in May, accounting for 3.3 percent of all deaths in England and Wales.

BA.5 ‘taking over’

Mircea Sofonea, an epidemiologist at the University of Montpellier, said Covid’s European summer wave could be explained by two factors.

READ ALSO: 11,000 new cases: Will Austria reintroduce restrictions as infection numbers rise?

One is declining immunity, because “the protection conferred by an infection or a vaccine dose decreases in time,” he told AFP.

The other came down to the new subvariants BA.4 and particularly BA.5, which are spreading more quickly because they appear to be both more contagious and better able to escape immunity.

Olivier Schwartz, head of the virus and immunity unit at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, said BA.5 was “taking over” because it is 10 percent more contagious than BA.2.

“We are faced with a continuous evolution of the virus, which encounters people who already have antibodies — because they have been previously infected or vaccinated — and then must find a selective advantage to be able to sneak in,” he said.

READ ALSO: Tourists: What to do if you test positive for Covid in France

But are the new subvariants more severe?

“Based on limited data, there is no evidence of BA.4 and BA.5 being associated with increased infection severity compared to the circulating variants BA.1 and BA.2,” the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said last week.

But rising cases can result in increasing hospitalisations and deaths, the ECDC warned.

Could masks be making a comeback over summer? (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

Alain Fischer, who coordinates France’s pandemic vaccine strategy, warned that the country’s hospitalisations had begun to rise, which would likely lead to more intensive care admissions and eventually more deaths.

However, in Germany, virologist Klaus Stohr told the ZDF channel that “nothing dramatic will happen in the intensive care units in hospitals”.

Return of the mask? 

The ECDC called on European countries to “remain vigilant” by maintaining testing and surveillance systems.

“It is expected that additional booster doses will be needed for those groups most at risk of severe disease, in anticipation of future waves,” it added.

Faced with rising cases, last week Italy’s government chose to extend a requirement to wear medical grade FFP2 masks on public transport until September 30.

“I want to continue to recommend protecting yourself by getting a second booster shot,” said Italy’s Health Minister Roberto Speranza, who recently tested positive for Covid.

READ ALSO: Spain to offer fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose to ‘entire population’

Fischer said France had “clearly insufficient vaccination rates” and that a second booster shot was needed.

Germany’s government is waiting on expert advice on June 30 to decide whether to reimpose mandatory mask-wearing rules indoors.

The chairman of the World Medical Association, German doctor Frank Ulrich Montgomery, has recommended a “toolbox” against the Covid wave that includes mask-wearing, vaccination and limiting the number of contacts.