Germany to scrap mask mandate in long-distance transport

FILE --People wear face masks to protect themself against the coronavirus as they leave and get on board of a subway train in Berlin, Germany, Tuesday, June 23, 2020. Germany's health minister says the country will soon drop a mask mandate in long-distance trains and buses, one of the countrys last remaining COVID-19 restrictions. Rules for local transport are a matter for Germanys 16 state governments. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn,file) (Michael Sohn, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

BERLIN – Germany will soon drop a mask mandate on long-distance trains and buses, one of the country's last remaining COVID-19 restrictions, the health minister said Friday.

The mandate will be dropped on Feb. 2, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach announced in Berlin.

Other European countries already have scrapped mask mandates in public transport, and Lauterbach faced increasing pressure to follow suit in recent weeks. Masks remain mandatory in doctors’ practices, while masks and negative tests are still required to enter hospitals and nursing homes.

Rules for local transportation are a matter for Germany’s 16 state governments, and an increasing number have dropped or are dropping their mask mandates. Some also have scrapped rules requiring infected people to isolate at home.

The long-distance transportation rules were scheduled to end on April 7, though legislation allows for them to be suspended earlier if the situation is better than expected.

After one of Germany's top virologists said shortly after Christmas that the pandemic is over, Lauterbach — who has long taken a cautious stance — faced mounting calls from inside and outside the governing coalition to do away with them.

“The pandemic situation has stabilized,” the minister said Friday, with the number of known or suspected infections stagnating or falling, and the number of people hospitalized continuing to decline.

“The population has built up high immunity, and the experts who advise us no longer believe there will be another big, serious winter wave,” he added. “At this point, we also don't foresee particularly dangerous variants reaching us in the coming weeks and months.”

Lauterbach appealed to people who want to continue protecting themselves and others to continue wearing masks voluntarily when indoors and on trains.