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Masks and testing: Germany sets out Covid-19 rules for winter ahead

Published September 08,2022

German lawmakers voted in favour of the government's plans for stricter masking and testing requirements to protect the public from an expected increase in Covid-19 cases during the winter season.

The new coronavirus regulations in the Infection Protection Act, the legal basis for measures to contain the virus in Germany's federal states, received 386 votes on Thursday, with 313 Bundestag lawmakers opposed and three abstentions.

Nationwide, the current rules requiring people to wear FFP2 masks are to remain in place for travel by long-distance trains, but the masks won't be required for air travel.

However, people in hospitals, nursing homes and doctors' surgeries will also have to wear FFP2 masks and those entering hospitals and care homes will also have to prove they have tested negative for the virus.

The new laws allow the states to introduce rules requiring people to wear masks in restaurants and other indoor areas as of October.

The states may also continue to require people to wear masks when travelling on public transport.

Covid-19 tests are to be made compulsory at schools and daycare centres, and mask-wearing can also be made mandatory from fifth grade and up.

The question of mask-wearing in schools was a matter of debate, with Education Minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger saying schools should not revert to mandatory mask policies for the time being.

"The pupils need as much normality as possible in the new school year," she told dpa. Masks are only required in schools from fifth grade and up and only as a last resort, when attendance in class would be jeopardized otherwise.

"That is a tough criterion. My expectation is that the federal states will not make use of it in the current coronavirus situation," she added. "This would only change in the case of a new variant of the virus emerging which is much more contagious and dangerous."

If infection levels rise above a critical level, the states are to be able to introduce further requirements.

The rules are to apply from October 1 to April 7, 2023. They still need to be passed by the Bundesrat.

Opposition lawmakers slammed the new legislation. Tino Sorge, a health specialist from the Christian Democrats, the largest opposition party, accused the government's plan of having "considerable technical deficiencies."

But Health Minister Karl Lauterbach defended the legislation. "We are enabling the states to offer exactly what is needed, depending on the pandemic situation - no more, but also no less," he said.

Justice Minister Marco Buschmann meanwhile pointed out that "it contains no lockdowns, no closures of businesses, no school closures, no bans on demonstrations."

In further support for the health care system, Germany is also due to provide extra funding for hospitals to offset sharply increased operating costs.

"In this energy and inflation crisis, we will not abandon our hospitals and will get them through the autumn and winter," Lauterbach said during a debate in the Bundestag.