German Health Minister planning new mask rules for autumn

Germany’s Health Minister Karl Lauterbach is already making plans to combat a potential new wave of Covid infections in the autumn.

Karl Lauterbach (SPD), Federal Minister of Health, puts his mask back on after a press conference.
Karl Lauterbach (SPD), Federal Minister of Health, puts his mask back on after a press conference. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christophe Gateau.

Speaking on Germany’s ZDF channel on Wednesday, Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said that he wants to make it possible to reintroduce compulsory indoor mask-wearing in the autumn.

Under the current Infection Protection Act, only so-called ‘basic protection’ applies – with mask-wearing mandatory only on public transport and in stations, on flights to and from Germany, in hospitals and medical practices, and care facilities.

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

But Lauterbach said that the Infection Protection Act, which is due to expire on September 23rd, is now being worked on again.

“The question will have to be discussed again, for example, whether wearing masks indoors will become mandatory…I think it is absolutely necessary that we open up this possibility for the autumn,” he said.

Lauterbach’s comments follow a meeting of state health ministers last week, in which they warned that new Covid-19 variants are expected to appear in autumn and winter and that tougher restrictions should be imposed again if they are needed. 

READ ALSO: Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach also warned that the higher-risk Delta variant could return to Germany. “That is why the Federal Ministry of Health should draw up a master plan to combat the Covid-19 pandemic as soon as possible and coordinate it with the states,” Chairwoman of the conference of health ministers, Petra Grimm-Benne said.

In the ZDF programme on Wednesday, Lauterbach also defended government plans to procure additional Covid vaccines. He said they now have vaccines for three different Covid strains ready for the autumn.

“I don’t know what’s coming,” he said, but, when a dangerous wave comes, he said, everyone wants the best vaccine. “So I’d rather be criticized for throwing it away later.” 

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Germany to repeal last protective measures against Covid-19

Three years after Germany introduced a series of protective measures against the coronavirus, the last are set to be repealed on Friday.

Germany to repeal last protective measures against Covid-19

The remaining restrictions – or the requirement to wear a mask in surgeries, clinics and nursing homes – are falling away a couple of days after German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) made an announcement that the Covid-19 pandemic is “over.”

“We have successfully managed the pandemic in Germany,” said Lauterbach at a press conference on Wednesday.

In light of low infection numbers and virus variants deemed to be less dangerous, Germany has been steadily peeling away the last of its longstanding measures. 

READ ALSO: Germany monitoring new Covid variant closely, says Health Minister

The obligation to wear a mask on public transport was lifted on February 2nd. 

During the height of the pandemic between 2020 and 2021, Germany introduced its strictest measures, which saw the closure of public institutions including schools and daycare centres (Kitas).

“The strategy of coping with the crisis had been successful overall,” said Lauterbach, while also admitting: “I don’t believe that the long school closures were entirely necessary.”

Since the first coronavirus cases in Germany were detected in January 2020, there have been over 38 million reported cases of the virus, and 171,272 people who died from or with the virus, according to the Robert Koch Institute. 

Voluntary measures

In surgeries and clinics, mask rules can remain in place on a voluntary basis – which some facilities said they would consider based on their individual situations. 

“Of course, practices can stipulate a further obligation to wear masks as part of their house rules, and likewise everyone can continue to wear a mask voluntarily,” the head of the National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians (KBV), Andreas Gassen, told DPA.

But Gassen said it was good there would no longer be an “automatic obligation”, and that individuals could take the responsibility of protecting themselves and others into their own hands. 

READ ALSO: Is the pandemic over in Germany?

“Hospitals are used to establishing hygiene measures to protect their patients, even independently of the coronavirus,” the head of the German Hospital Association (DKG), Gerald Gaß, told DPA.

With the end of the last statutory Covid measures, he said, we are entering “a new phase” in dealing with this illness. 

“Hospitals will then decide individually according to the respective situation which measures they will take,” he said, for example based on the ages and illnesses of the patients being treated.