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What are Germany’s new Covid mask rules?

Germany is on the cusp of an overhaul of its mask-wearing rules, with several shops and businesses indicating that they're happy for customers to leave their masks at home. Here are the places you will - and won't - need to cover your mouth and nose in future.

Berlin bar Covid mask
A mask lies on a table in a bar in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Annette Riedl

On April 2nd, the current set of Covid protection measures will expire, leaving only a handful of restrictions in place.

One of the major changes – along with the end of 2G and 3G rules – will be the end of mask-wearing rules in shops and other businesses. 

In future, there will be no general obligation to cover your nose and mouth when entering supermarkets and other shops – but it’s possible that some retailers may decide to put their own mask-wearing rules in place. 

This is, at least, what Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) is hoping for.

Having drafted the new version of the Infection Protection Act along with Justice Minister Marco Buschmann (FDP), Lauterbach is now calling on retail chains to take matters into their own hands and ask customers to wear masks even after the legal basis for this has changed.

He’ll be disappointed to find out that several major German retailers have already declared that they have no intention of keeping masks in place from April 2nd.

The places where you’ll be able to shop “ohne Maske” include:

  • Shopping centres run by ECE, including Berlin’s Gesundbrunnen, Hamlin’s Stadtgalerie and the Olympia shopping centre in Munich
  • MediaMarkt and Saturn
  • Thalia
  • Deichmann
  • Ikea
  • C&A
  • Douglas
  • Ernsting’s family
  • Gerry Weber
  • Woolworth
  • Aldi 
  • Edeka (from April 4th)

READ ALSO: OPINION: The worst of both worlds – Germany’s coronavirus policy pleases no-one

What about other shops?

As mentioned, the law is changing to end the general obligation to wear masks in retail outlets. Nevertheless, one or two shop owners may decide they want to keep this in place to protect their staff. However, this group will probably be in the minority.

Another thing to consider is that the new law contains a clause allowing certain regions to define themselves as “Covid hotspots” and keep some rules like masks in shops in place for a bit longer. 

The definition of a hotspot is a bit woolly at present, but the Infection Protection Act says it should be a region where hospitals are under severe pressure. So far, Mecklenburg Western-Pomerania and Hamburg have signalled that they’ll take advantage of this clause. 

Where else can people go without a mask?

Almost everywhere. Primarily, the new regulation is aimed solely at vulnerable groups, so you’ll still be expected to wear your mask on a visit to the GP or hospital and in nursing and care homes. In many other public venues, mask-wearing rules will end. 

In practice, that means that leisure venues like gyms, cinemas and museums will no longer require customers to wear masks. It also means that people will no longer have to put on their masks when entering and leaving bars, cafes and restaurants – or when heading to the toilets in these venues. 

Kino International Mask wearing

A sign in Kino International, Berlin, tells customers to wear a nose-and-mouth covering. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Fabian Sommer

The general mask-wearing obligation will also be dropped in the workplace – though employers will be required to come up with their own concept for keeping their staff healthy, which could include masks in some instances. If that’s the case, they will be expected to supply their employees with the masks they need.

Parents and children may also be relieved to find out that the mask-wearing rule will be dropped in schools and nurseries. 

READ ALSO: How Germany is preparing to end ‘working from home’ rule

What about on public transport?

This is one major exception to the rules. According to the latest version of the Infection Protection Act, people will still be expected to cover their nose and mouth on local trains, buses and trams. 

There were early rumours that the government was considering changing the rules on long-distance transport, but it looks like that has now been overturned, meaning passengers on long-distance buses and trains will also need to wear a mask. The same will apply on flights. 

What type of mask is required?

States may decide to write their own rules on this, and FFP2 masks have become pretty standard in Germany in any case.

However, there’s nothing concrete in the Infection Protection Act, so people who want to be more environmentally friendly may be able to switch back to the reusable cloth masks once again. 

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Germany to bring in new Covid rules ahead of 'difficult' winter

From Saturday, masks will no longer be required on commercial flights, though people will still be expected to wear an FFP2 mask on long-distance trains.

States will also be given the option to introduce mandatory masks in other public indoor spaces, including on local public transport and in schools. If they choose to bring in masks, they’ll also have the freedom to introduce exceptions to masks for people who are recently vaccinated or who have tested negative for Covid.

States will also be able to introduce compulsory testing in schools and nurseries.

READ ALSO: German states likely to keep mask mandate on public transport

Speaking at a press conference alongside Robert Koch Institute (RKI) chair Lothar Wieler on Friday, German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach defended the decision to keep Covid rules in place when other countries in Europe have largely got rid of their pandemic measures. 

“It’s not for me to criticise what other countries are doing,” said Lauterbach. “We have a particularly difficult winter ahead of us due to the energy crisis, we don’t want to make it worse through the Covid crisis.”

The SPD politician also defended plans for mandatory masks for residents and staff in nursing and care homes. Having 40 or 50 vulnerable people together in an enclosed space is “extremely high-risk”, he said. 

Under the new rules set to be introduced on Saturday, residents of care homes will be expected to wear FPP2 masks in all common areas of the home, and will only be able to take them off in their bedrooms.

“For people in nursing homes, the FFP2 mask requirement means a considerable cut in their quality of life,” Regina Görner, chairwoman of the Federal Association of Senior Citizens’ Organisations (Bagso), told DPA:

“The nursing home is their home, in which they can then no longer move freely without a mask.”

Visitors to nursing homes, meanwhile, will have to supply a negative Covid test, while staff will be tested three times a week. 

Under the autumn and winter rules, people across Germany will also be required to wear an FFP2 mask at their doctor’s surgery and in medical outpatient facilities such as hospitals.

“We’re better prepared than last autumn,” Lauterbach told reporters on Friday. “We have the infection numbers under control, we have this wave under control.” 

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

Steep rise in cases

As the weather turns colder, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) has reported a steep rise in respiratory infections, including Covid-19.

Last week, the number of Covid patients jumped dramatically from 500,000 to 1.2 million per week, with cases rising significantly in every age group.

Meanwhile, the 7-day incidence of Covid infections per 100,000 people shot up from 409 on Thursday to 466 on Friday. The previous week, the weekly incidence stood at 294 per 100,000 people. 

The numbers are believed to be partially inflated by the ongoing Oktoberfest beer festival, which is being held for the first time since the pandemic started. In Munich, the location of the festival, the weekly incidence is almost 800. 

Speaking at the press conference in Berlin on Friday, RKI chair Wieler warned people not to get complacent about the threat of infection.

“A mild course of illness simply means not ending up in hospital,” he said. “We should be conscious of how much risk we want take on, and how much risk we can avoid.”

RKI chief Lothar Wieler

Robert Koch Institute chair Lothar Wieler (l) and Heath Minister Karl Lauterbach (r) hold a press conference in Berlin on Friday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Wolfgang Kumm

Despite the looming energy crisis, the RKI boss advised the public to ensure that rooms were well ventilated, adding that spaces normally occupied by a large number of people should be aired out more regularly.

He also advised people with Covid symptoms to stay home until they felt better in order to avoid passing on any infections, and warned that people should be especially careful to avoid contact with vulnerable people.

“Just like before, these people need our solidarity,” he said. 

Self-isolation and quarantine rules vary from state to state, but people who test positive for Covid generally have to isolate for a minimum of five days and a maximum of 10.

In some cases, people can take an additional Covid test in order to end their isolation early.

The RKI has also recommended that people wear a mask in public enclosed spaces. 

READ ALSO: What will the Covid situation in Germany look like this autumn?