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Will Covid measures end sooner than expected in Germany?

Imogen Goodman
Imogen Goodman - [email protected]
Will Covid measures end sooner than expected in Germany?
A woman carries an FFP2 mask in Munich's Marienplatz. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Karl-Josef Hildenbrand

With prominent virologists declaring the pandemic 'over,' calls for an end to mask-wearing rules and other Covid measures are growing louder in Germany. Could we soon see an end to masks on buses and trains - and no obligation to isolate?

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The debate over mandatory masks has flared up once again in Germany, with politicians from the opposition CDU/CSU parties and the liberal FDP both fighting for an end to masks on public transport. 

On Thursday, the CDU Secretary General entered the fray, arguing that current Covid rules are disproportionate. 

"All remaining restrictions on fundamental rights must be lifted, and the requirement to wear a mask on buses and trains can no longer be justified," Mario Czaja told RND. 

Czaja accused Health Secretary Karl Lauterbach (SPD) of peddling "dubious horror scenarios" in order to keep restrictions in place. He pointed out that other countries have also ended their pandemic measures. 

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The liberal FDP - who govern alongside the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens federally - should now push for restrictions to be lifted, Czaja argued. 

There have also been calls from the parliamentary CDU/CSU parties for a special meeting of federal and state leaders in early January in order to lift all remaining restrictions. 

'End of the pandemic' - says top virologist

The dispute over Covid rules flared up again this week after a prominent virologist declared the pandemic was over.

In an interview with Tagesspiegel on Tuesday, Christian Drosten, the head of virology at Berlin's Charité clinic, said widespread immunity had made Covid much less dangerous to the population.

"We are seeing the first endemic wave of Covid-19 this winter," he said. "So in my estimation, that's the end of the pandemic."

Virologist Christian Drosten

Christian Drosten, head of the virology department at Berlin's Charite University Hospital. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jörg Carstensen

Drosten's comments immediately sparked a debate about whether it was still necessary to keep the current measures set out in the Infection Protection Act.

Among the voices calling for an end to restrictions was Justice Minister Marco Buschmann (FDP), who helped draft the current version of the Infection Protection Act alongside Health Minister Lauterbach.

"Christian Drosten was among the most cautious scientists during the pandemic," the FDP politician wrote on Twitter. "Now his assessment is that the pandemic is over. We are in an endemic state. As a political consequence, we should end the last Covid protection measures."

READ ALSO: Calls to end Covid measures as top German virologist declares pandemic 'over'

FDP urges states to drop rules

The discussion has exposed a rift between the parties of the federal traffic-light coalition, with the liberal FDP arguing for a return to normality and the centre-left SPD - including Lauterbach and Chancellor Olaf Scholz - taking a more cautious view.

As debates in the cabinet continue, FDP Secretary General Bijan Djir-Sarai urged the federal states to go their own way and end compulsory masks on public transport.

Under the current Infection Protection Act, masks are mandatory on long-distance transport nationwide, but states can opt to bring in (or remove) masks on local buses, trains, and trams of their own accord.

Bavaria and Saxony-Anhalt ended mandatory masks on local public transport in December, and Schleswig-Holstein is due to follow in January.

Meanwhile, Mecklenburg Western-Pomerania, Lower Saxony and Saxony have all hinted that the requirement to wear masks on buses and trains will end after winter. 

A group of five states, including Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg, has also ended mandatory self-isolation for people who test positive for Covid. Instead, stricter mask-wearing and social distancing rules are in place for those with a current infection.

READ ALSO: Four German states poised to end mandatory Covid isolation

Majority against end to restrictions

While politicians clash over current Covid rules, a recent YouGov poll suggests that the public is taking a cautious stance. 

In a survey commissioned by DPA, 52 percent said they opposed a nationwide end to mandatory masks on public transport, while 60 percent want compulsory isolation for infected people to remain in place.

Almost two-thirds (64 percent) also said that the pandemic was not yet over. 

FFP2 mask city centre

Passengers wearing FFP2 masks board a tram in the city centre in Brandenburg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Monika Skolimowska

The poll of 2,041 German residents was conducted between December 21st and 23rd - shortly before virologist Christian Drosten told Tagesspiegel he believed that pandemic had ended. 

In contrast, only 31 percent of YouGov respondents said the pandemic was history for them, while 23 percent think it will end next year and 41 percent said it would continue throughout 2023. 

The current Infection Protection Act is due to expire on April 7th, 2023, though the government has the ability to remove restrictions at an earlier date or amend and extend it after it expires. 

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

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