As Germany braces for the next wave of coronavirus, photos from a flight full of government officials and media representatives – with no masks in sight – have prompted renewed debate about what role masks will play in future health guidelines.
The criticism was sparked by pictures from a government jet Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Economics Minister Robert Habeck used to fly to Montreal this week. Eighty passengers, including 25 media representatives, were on board the air force Airbus A340 flight to Canada on Sunday. Pictures show Habeck in close contact with journalists without mouth and nose coverage.
The mask-free passengers did not violate any rules for the flight, the German government has stated.
“There is no mask requirement on air force flights. All travellers must present a recent negative PCR [polymerase chain reaction] test before boarding. This ensures high-level protection,” a government spokesperson stated.
An air force spokesperson elaborated that passengers on this trip were encouraged, not required, to wear a mask, because they were all tested beforehand. Furthermore, hygiene procedures are highly regulated and constantly updated in light of the current situation.
But that still isn’t going down well as the German public ponder an oncoming season of coronavirus and wonder how much longer they will be expected to wear masks for travel and practice social distancing.
Scholz responded to the criticism by referring to the “clear rules” for government flights during a press conference in Newfoundland Tuesday. Masks were also not mandatory on the chancellor’s internal government flight to Newfoundland.
He also said he was pleased at the intensive and timely preparation going on in Germany for legislation ahead of the next expected wave of coronavirus infections.
On Wednesday, the German Cabinet plans to introduce a new set of Covid-19 safety regulations for the fall. According to the preliminary draft, general mask requirements on planes and long-distance trains nationwide will remain in place.
Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, the parliamentary vice chairperson of the pro-business Free Democrats – one of the parties in the governing coalition – tweeted on Tuesday that, after seeing the photos, he could not continue to follow mask regulations on “normal” aeroplanes.
In response to the hubbub about the flight, Lufthansa clarified that mask requirements will continue on its flights to and from Germany.
“A negative PCR test does not exempt one from wearing a mask,” Lufthansa tweeted. Flight crews are required to inform all passengers of the mask obligation, a Lufthansa spokesperson explained. Masks can only be removed briefly, for example for eating and drinking.
However, Lufthansa announced in May that, for safety reasons, it would no longer utilize all means of enforcement in order to ensure mask wearing.
The German airline industry called for a waiver of the mandatory on-board mask requirement earlier this spring. At the time, German Transport Minister Volker Wissing was a strong supporter.
The German Foreign Office has not yet changed departmental guidelines for mask-wearing when Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock travels. Every member of the German delegation must wear a mask for all means of public transportation.
Courtesy © dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH www.dpa.com