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COVID-19 RULES

German states likely to keep mask mandate on public transport

Health ministers in Germany's 16 states say that the requirement to wear face masks on local public transport should remain in place throughout autumn and winter.

A sign showing people have to wear masks on the Hamburg U-Bahn.
A sign showing people have to wear masks on the Hamburg U-Bahn. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Julian Weber

As part of Germany’s planned Covid regulations from October onwards, people will have to wear FFP2 masks on long-distance transport, such as trains.

However, states are able to decide themselves on any mask requirements for local buses, trains, and trams. 

On Monday, state health ministers agreed that they were in favour of keeping the mask mandate on public transport across Germany.

According to the health ministry in Saxony-Anhalt, which currently holds the presidency of the Conference of Health Ministers, the aim is to have uniform rules in all states when it comes to masks on transit. 

It comes after some people raised concerns that Germany would see a patchwork of different rules across the states.

As The Local has been reporting, the Bundestag last week passed a set of Covid regulations that will be in place from October 1st until April 7th 2023.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS – Germany’s new Covid-19 rules for autumn

The plan includes some measures that will apply nationwide, while the states can decide on regional requirements depending on the pandemic situation.

Across Germany, FFP2 masks will be mandatory on long-distance trains and buses as well as in health and care settings, such as GP offices. There will no longer be a requirement to wear masks on planes in Germany.

Approval of the legal framework is still needed from the Bundesrat, which represents the states. That is expected to take place on Friday. 

Member comments

  1. More and more people are quietly deciding that the rules and regulations make no sense, are not consequential and increasingly arbitrary …and not adhering to the regulations in public transport. It is incredibly encouraging, that despite more and more passengers not wearing a mask at all / wearing only an OP mask / wearing either kind of mask inaccurately, that the case figures are not rising drastically. I for one, am fed up being treated like a nursery child, rather than being able to exercise my own judgement and am practising civil disobedience.

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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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