People on public transit in Germany will be allowed to travel bare-faced for the first time in almost three years from Thursday, with the obligation to wear masks to protect against COVID-19 infections being dropped nationwide.
The mandatory wearing of masks on long-distance trains and buses had been due to last until April, but the federal Cabinet recently decided to lift the regulation ahead of time in view of the falling number of COVID-19 cases in the country
What are the mask-wearing rules now?
Passengers on all forms of public transportation, both long-distance and regional, will no longer have to wear masks, with the nine states that have until now maintained the obligation for local trips also lifting the regulation.
However, FFP2 masks, which are roughly equivalent to N95 masks in the US, will still have to be worn by visitors to hospitals, care homes and doctor and dentists' offices until April 7.
German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach, who is known for taking a very cautious stance on regulations to prevent the spread of infection, has recommended that people still voluntarily wear masks.
What has been said about the lifting of the mask mandate?
The neoliberal Free Democratic Party (FDP), a member of Germany's three-party ruling coalition and which favors light-handed regulation by government in general, has hailed the move and claimed to have played a major role in bringing it about.
The party's general secretary, Bijan Djir-Sarai, told the dpa news agency that if his party had not put pressure on the government, the regulation would not have been dropped ahead of the earlier deadline, "and we would still have to sit in trains and buses with masks."
"All restrictions on freedom have to be proportionate and must be kept in place only for as long as is absolutely necessary," he added. "Germany has overcome the pandemic. Now it is important to end the last state-imposed coronavirus measures as well, such as the mask mandate in doctors' offices."
Upholding the mask mandate on trains has become increasingly difficult in Germany, with many passengers venting their anger on personnel at being forced to wear one. National rail operator Deutsche Bahn reported 25% more attacks on its staff last year than in the year before, with most acts of aggression — some of which led to serious injury — being attributed to anger over the mandate.
A spokesman for the VDV, an umbrella organization of public transit authorities and companies, told dpa that in its view, "a mandate has long been unnecessary in view of the pandemic situation."
"It was becoming more and more difficult to make passengers comply and to explain to them why people didn't have to wear a mask in fully occupied planes or sold-out concert halls, but still did on the way to the airport or the concert on buses and trains," he said.
tj/sms (dpa, AFP)