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Masks Become Compulsory In Germany As Lockdown Restrictions Slowly Ease

Travelers wear face masks to protect against the spread of the coronavirus at the central station in Munich on Monday. Masks became mandatory in parts of Germany for people shopping and using public transport.
Matthias Schrader
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Wearing face masks on public transportation and in shops became mandatory in much of Germany on Monday, with some regions imposing fines on those who don't.

The requirement comes a week after small shops in much of the country were allowed to reopen and follows a monthlong government-imposed lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19. Germany has the world's fifth-highest number of confirmed cases, and Chancellor Angela Merkel has implemented strict social distancing rules, limiting public gatherings to two people and canceling public events.

A majority of Germany's federal states are implementing the compulsory mask rule with fines for those who do not wear masks while they're on public transportation, long-distance trains or inside shops. In Bavaria, for example, the fine for not wearing a mask will be equal to around $160. Business owners who let customers in without masks will have to pay more than $5,000 if they're caught.

The states of Berlin, Brandenburg and Bremen will also require masks for those on public transportation and in shops but do not intend to impose fines. The northern state of Schleswig-Holstein will begin implementing the mask rule on Wednesday.

Federal health authorities have made it clear that masks do not need to be medically approved. Scarves or other kinds of cloth over the mouth and nose can be used, according to Germany's Health Ministry.

A confusing twist to the new mask rule: Car drivers will face a 60-euro ($65) fine if they wear masks, the Guardian reports. A 2017 law made it illegal to cover the face while driving, so that drivers can be recognized by speed cameras and police surveillance.

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Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.