With coronavirus cases dropping, Germany debates dropping masks

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A poster calling on more hand washing instead of purchasing masks is seen at a pharmacy in Berlin, capital of Germany, March 3, 2020. Germany's confirmed cases of COVID-19 have increased to 188 on Tuesday from 150 a day earlier, according to Robert Koch Institute (RKI), a federal government agency and research institute responsible for disease control and prevention. (Xinhua/Shan Yuqi)
A poster calling on more hand washing instead of purchasing masks is seen at a pharmacy in Berlin, capital of Germany, March 3, 2020. Germany's confirmed cases of COVID-19 have increased to 188 on Tuesday from 150 a day earlier, according to Robert Koch Institute (RKI), a federal government agency and research institute responsible for disease control and prevention. (Xinhua/Shan Yuqi)

Falling coronavirus infection rates in Germany mean that compulsory mask-wearing in public areas could soon be a thing of the past, according to remarks by Health Minister Jens Spahn published in the country’s Monday morning press.

“We should proceed by stages in the light of falling incidence rates,” Spahn told the Funke Media Group. “In an initial step, the obligation to wear masks while outside can basically fall away.”

In those parts of Germany where infection rates were low and vaccination rates high, the obligation for those indoors could also be gradually, he added.

But Spahn also stressed that masks should be retained in some circumstances when there was any “doubt,” for example when travelling or meeting others indoors.

German teachers immediately came out against dropping masks in schools. Heinz-Peter Meidinger, president of the national association of teachers, urged “the greatest possible caution,” in remarks to dpa.

“The virus has not yet disappeared,” he said, urging that masks should be retained in the school environment, along with regular testing, until the end of the academic year, which will arrive during the next few weeks, albeit at different times in different states.

The country’s pharmacies urged patience as they began issuing digital vaccination certificates designed in particular for those aiming to holiday abroad. Technical and organizational bottlenecks meant that capacity was limited, pharmacy associations said.

The certificates are to be in the form of a QR code issued by vaccination centres and scanned into smartphones.

Six months after the start of the vaccination campaign, almost half the population has received at least one shot. According to figures from the official disease control body, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI). It said that 48.1 per cent have been vaccinated at least once, with 25.7 per cent now fully vaccinated.

The RKI recorded just 549 new cases in the past 24 hours on Monday morning, the first time in more than eight months that a figure below 1,000 had been posted. However, weekend data tend to be skewed downwards, as many local authorities do not report in.

The move to drop masks in Germany came after Denmark lifted rules for mandatory face-coverings in almost all public spaces on Monday.

The government and most parliamentary parties agreed to lift the rules that have been in force for months, with Danish residents now only required to wear a mask on public transport when they are not sitting.

Masks are to disappear completely by September 1.

But concerns remained about the Delta variant, which was first identified in India and which has led to rising infection rates in Britain. British media reports said the government was considering delaying the lifting of restrictions, currently planned for June 21.

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