Germany was mulling tougher anti-pandemic measures as authorities in Bavaria ordered highly protective FFP2 masks to be worn in shops and on public transport.
Top German officials were set to discuss an order that would make wearing higher-quality FFP2 masks mandatory in certain situations, the German media reported on Monday. The reports came as the heads of all 16 German states were due to decide on tougher anti-pandemic measures at a meeting with the federal government on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the German government increased its earlier offer of sending millions of vouchers for the FFP2 masks to people believed to be at the highest risk. Officials previously said they would make the vouchers available to 27 million people, but this has been increased to 34.1 million on Monday.
This builds upon the southern state of Bavaria's decision Monday to mandate the wearing of FFP2 masks instead of other mouth and nose coverings for all citizens in shops, on public transport and in other situations.
Those identified as vulnerable - generally people aged 60 and over as well as those with certain chronic illnesses - will now be able to collect 12 FFP2 masks at pharmacies with vouchers to be sent out in the coming days.
The southern German state of Bavaria has now ordered the wearing of FFP2 masks for all citizens in shops, on public transport and in other situations.
Unlike other coverings, FFP2 masks protect the person wearing the mask as well as the people around the wearer. However, they do not provide 100% protection against infection.
Tuesday's conference between state premiers and the federal government is set to focus on extending Germany's current lockdown beyond the end of this month.
Beyond establishing nightly curfews, the government may follow Bavaria's lead and make FFP2 mask wearing mandatory.
Still unclear is whether current measures — which include the closure of schools and non-essential businesses and bans on meetings with more than one other person outside an individual's own household — will be intensified.
The nation's health minister, Jens Spahn, on Monday promised new efforts to more closely track mutant variants of the virus found in the UK and South Africa.
Going forward, laboratories capable of sequencing the virus in order to identify its type will be handing over their data to the nation's Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for disease control.
Though a surge in coronavirus cases following Christmas and New Year did not materialize in Germany, the government and top health officials warn that despite some reductions, infection rates remain too high.
As of Monday, the RKI had confirmed over 2.04 million infections have been reported since the start of the pandemic, and that 46,633 people have lost their lives.
The caseload rose by 7,141 compared to the previous day, and the death toll by 214. However, figures tend to be lower on Mondays due to a lag in testing and reporting over the weekend.
mb/dj (dpa, Reuters)