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COVID: Germany drops mask requirement at shops

April 4, 2022

German shoppers can now go maskless for the first time in two years, as the country drops some coronavirus measures — despite high infection rates and resistance from some states.

A mask on the sidewalk in front of a shop
After the federal government dropped mask requirements, states raised the alarm — now individuals will decide whether or not to wear a maskImage: Oliver Berg/dpa/picture alliance

After two years of mandates, Germans are no longer required by law to wear face masks in shops.

From now on, in all states that do not decide to take a different path, it will be up to individual shop owners to decide whether those in their stores are required to wear masks or not.

The requirement was officially dropped in Berlin on Friday and most states followed Sunday. Hamburg and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania have used the federal government's "hotspot" loophole — requiring measures be in place if infection rates are especially high — to leave mask mandates in place.

A number of Germany's 16 states voiced loud opposition to the rule change.

On Monday, shop owners said an overwhelming majority of customers kept their masks on while indoors.

"There is a rather unagitated, quiet and reasonable majority who will naturally don masks when they are near closed, indoor spaces," said Michael Genth, chairman of the Saarbrücken Trade and Commerce Association. "We assume customers will act responsibly and continue to wear masks while shopping indoors."

Germany in coronavirus turmoil

Unions fear workers could be exposed to infection risk

Large retailers such as supermarkets Rewe, Lidl, Aldi and Edeka; Swedish furniture giant Ikea; bookseller Thalia; and fast-fashion chains H&M and Primark have all said they will not require customers to wear masks in stores.

Still, some employers have raised concern about the changes, as have employees. Trade union Verdi, for instance, lamented the position the rule change puts workers in, potentially exposing them to infection at their place of employment.

Masks no longer required but health experts recommend wearing them

Despite a massive spike in infections over the past month, federal and state leaders recently amended the country's pandemic containment legislation, dialing back many safety requirements such as the obligation to wear masks, which had been in place since spring 2020.

Masks will now only be required federally for those traveling by plane or on a long-distance train. States can also demand that individuals wear masks in hospitals, care facilities and while using public transport if they choose to.

German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach has advised citizens to continue wearing masks in indoor settings despite the rollback.

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI), Germany's infectious disease authority, reported 41,129 new COVID cases and 23 COVID-related deaths in the early hours of Monday morning. Figures tend to lower on Mondays as a result of reduced testing and reporting over weekends, especially on Sundays. 

Health minister says quarantine to be voluntary from May 1

Health Minister Lauterbach announced Monday that beyond mask requirements, quarantine rules would also be relaxed, saying those infected with the coronavirus would no longer be forced to go into isolation; but would however be urged to do so voluntarily.

"The current rules work," said Lauterbach, just "not necessarily in the long run." He said although quarantine is "strongly recommended" in cases of infection, as of May 1 individuals would be asked to isolate "on a voluntary basis."

There are exceptions, however, with medical workers still being obliged to quarantine for five days in the event of infection.  

js/msh (dpa, KNA)