Mask requirement on long-distance trains: FDP wants to overturn further corona rules

Lower Saxony and Bremen are lifting the isolation requirement. The FDP and the head of the conference of health ministers want further easing.

A man wearing an FFP2 mask stands at the open door of an ICE

Masks are to be worn on long-distance trains until April. Or does the rule change sooner? Photo: Jochen Eckel/imago

BERLIN taz | Federal and state politicians are putting increasing pressure to overturn the last remaining rules for corona containment. FDP politicians in particular are calling for a quick end to the mask requirement in long-distance public transport. In local transport, where the countries can decide for themselves, such a regulation applies in many places not anymore. More and more federal states are also planning to abolish the isolation requirements for corona sufferers.

Federal Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP) had already spoken out on ARD on Wednesday in favor of ending the mask requirement on long-distance buses and trains. The chairman of the conference of health ministers, Manne Lucha (Greens), from Baden-Württemberg, made a similar statement on Thursday. From February, there should be rules that are as uniform as possible nationwide, he told the Funke media group. Federal Minister of Justice Marco Buschmann (FDP) also called for a quick end to the rules in long-distance traffic on Twitter on Thursday.

So far, it is planned that these pandemic measures will not expire until April 7th. Federal Minister of Health Karl Lauterbach (SPD) no longer rules out an early end, but does not want to relax immediately. He refers to the continuing tense situation in many clinics, especially due to flu viruses.

Lauterbach also warned when individual countries announced last year that they would abolish the obligation to wear masks in local transport. The countries eased anyway. In Bavaria, Saxony-Anhalt and Schleswig-Holstein it is already permitted to use public transport without a mask. Berlin, Brandenburg, Thuringia, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Saxony are also planning to end the rules for local transport soon. Lower Saxony was added on Thursday. State Health Minister Daniela Behrens (SPD) announced that the obligation would be lifted in February.

Background to Wieler’s resignation

At the same time, the isolation requirement for corona patients in Lower Saxony should also end, as Behrens announced. She came a few hours earlier with this announcement from the state government in Bremen, which on Wednesday also announced the end of the obligation to isolate for her state next month.

Thuringia has been planning this step for some time. In Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg, Hesse and Schleswig-Holstein, the obligation to isolate has already been lifted. Without this regulation and without the requirements for local and long-distance transport, in many places only the mask requirements for clinics, practices and other health services remain.

The farewell e-mail from the President of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), which was made public, reminded of the great emotions such rules had triggered during the peak phase of the pandemic. Lothar Wieler, who the day before his had announced farewell to April, justifies the step with the enormous pressure and indirectly also public hostilities. As President of the most important German health institute, Wieler had at times become the enemy of conspiracy theorists during the pandemic.

Recently there had also been repeated disagreements between Lauterbach and the RKI management. After the RKI decided in January 2022 to reduce the convalescent status from six to three months, Lautberbach withdrew the decision-making power from the institute. This was partly interpreted as disempowerment.

The RKI had already announced on Wednesday that Wieler’s withdrawal was at his own request and in consultation with Lauterbach. In his e-mail, Wieler writes that in the future he wants to “work again in the scientific and academic field – preferably in a calm and factual manner – but below the spotlight of politics and the media”.

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