Germany tightens COVID travel rules in autumn and winter

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BERLIN — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s cabinet on Wednesday approved legislation that ensures the continuation of basic protective measures against the coronavirus pandemic in the fall and winter, when more cases of the virus are expected.

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The unveiling of the rules, which also include a new obligation to wear N95 face masks on all long-distance train and bus journeys as well as on planes, coincided with the release of pictures showing the Chancellor and German Economy Minister Robert Habeck flew to Canada earlier this week without wearing masks.

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The photos sparked strong public criticism of an alleged double standard for politicians and ordinary people. Currently, medical face masks are mandatory on airplanes and public transportation, although N95-style masks are recommended.

Justice Minister Marco Buschmann and Health Minister Karl Lauterbach told reporters that the pandemic-specific rules that apply to the German air force operating government flights had been followed and that everyone on the flight, including German business leaders and reporters, have taken a PCR test before boarding the plane.

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Still, the justice minister admitted that “from a political point of view, I would recommend that we as a federal government apply the same rules everywhere that apply everywhere else.”

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“Because otherwise, of course, there’s a sense that you’re willing to impose something on citizens that you don’t want to impose on yourself,” Bushman added. “And that’s why I can understand to some degree that there’s so much talk about it.”

In addition to the mandatory use of N95 masks during long-distance travel, the new measures, which will apply from October 1 to April 7, will also include a national obligation to wear masks and be tested before entering hospitals, nursing homes people and similar institutions with vulnerable people.

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In addition, Germany’s 16 states will have the power to adopt their own rules depending on how badly the virus affects their areas. State governments may decide to require masks on local public transportation, in schools for students in the fifth grade and up, and at public indoor events. If the virus becomes widespread again, the number of people at public events may be limited and testing may be required.

The Minister of Justice emphasized that there will be no more lockdowns or school closures, regardless of how the pandemic develops during the cold weather seasons.

“Students were certainly the group that suffered the most from the pandemic … especially in terms of exercising their right to education, especially in terms of school closings,” Bushman said. “And that’s why I’m glad we were able to quickly agree that the school closure tool is therefore completely disproportionate.”

The new regulations still need to go to the lower and upper houses of Germany’s parliament for approval, but are expected to pass.

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