BERLIN: All states of Germany have announced plans to make face masks compulsory from next week onwards to combat the spread of coronavirus.
The measure, which will apply to people shopping or using public transport including taxis, mandates that people wear masks that cover their mouth and nose from next week. Scarves or improvised cloth coverings can also be used instead of masks, while medical masks would be reserved for medical workers.
Chancellor Angela Merkel strongly recommended their use last week when she eased lockdown rules nationwide. Bavaria became the third German state in a week to announce a face mask requirement on Monday, while Bremen became the final federal region to back the measures.
Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Soder said in a government statement. “Appeals alone will probably not be the best safeguard,” he said. “Patience has saved lives. Impatience could put them back at risk,” he added. Bavaria has the highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany, with almost 38,000 confirmed cases and over 1,280 deaths.
Mask use will be compulsory on public transport throughout Germany, and nearly all states will also make face coverings mandatory when shopping. In Berlin, it will not be compulsory to wear a mask when shopping.
Different countries have issued different guidance on the use of face masks. Austria made them compulsory when shopping at the start of this month, but Switzerland confirmed it would not make its citizens wear masks as it loosened its restrictions.
The Robert Koch Institute (RKI), Germany’s public health institute, also formally recommends that people wear masks in shared, public spaces. “Wearing a mouth-to-nose covering in public can help slow the spread of COVID-19 in the population and protect high-risk groups from infection,” the RKI wrote on its website.
Many German cities and states have taken the initiative to implement the measure requiring people to wear masks in public spaces although there is no national measure and their use is merely encouraged.
The city of Munster, in Germany’s most populous state North Rhine-Westphalia, will make masks compulsory in shops, markets, buses and public areas of the city’s administrative buildings from next Monday.
Many health institutions including the RKI and the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention endorse wearing masks on the basis that they can help stop the wearer from unknowingly infecting others. The World Health Organization (WHO) has consistently said only the ill and those caring for them need to wear masks.