Health Minister Karl Lauterbach made the announcement after consultations with ministers from Germany’s 16 federal states, saying “the infection situation has stabilised.”
Lauterbach, however, encouraged people to continue wearing masks voluntarily “on the basis of personal responsibility”, adding “the virus should not be trivialised” and warning of potential longer-term impacts.
Several factors contributed to the policy change, Lauterbach said, including a higher level of immunity in the public and a reduced chance of new mutations, which meant a winter resurgence of the virus was unlikely.
The situation is “tense but manageable” in hospitals, Lauterbach added.
The requirement, which has been in place since the early stages of the pandemic, had been scheduled to expire on April 7nd but will now end sooner.
A number of German states – including Bavaria and Schleswig-Holstein – have already relaxed mask rules in regional public transport, while several others are set to do so at the start of February.
READ ALSO: Several German states to drop Covid masks on public transport in February
However, rules on the country’s long-distance train and bus network remain the central government’s responsibility.
Germany was one of the few remaining countries in Europe to keep a mask requirement, with many having scrapped rules or downgraded them to recommendations in 2022.
Alongside Germany, Spain is the only other large European country to maintain mask rules on long-distance trains and public transport, with the Spanish government announcing in October that these will remain in place until at least March 2023.
Free “test-to-release” tests to end
In another key move away from pandemic measures, the government has also announced that people will have to pay for their Covid tests in order to end self-isolation from January 16th.
Medical staff who need to test before returning to work and visitors to clinics and care homes will still receive their tests free of charge until February 28th.
Self-isolation rules vary from state to state, but some require a negative test if people want to stop isolating after five days instead of the full ten.
These are currently funded by the government, but funding is due to end on January 15th.
The news comes after a group of five states announced that they would be ending mandatory self-isolation for people infected with Covid.
Instead, people will be required to wear masks while out and about and observe social distancing rules.
READ ALSO: Four German states poised to end mandatory Covid isolation