Explained: Germany's new mask rule for public transport & shops

Explained: Germany's new mask rule for public transport & shops

At the coronavirus summit on January 19, Germany’s federal and state governments agreed to extend the current lockdown until at least February 14, while also imposing some new restrictions. One thing that’s changing is the rule on the type of mask that needs to be worn on public transport and in shops. Here’s an overview of what you need to know. 

Germany tightens up rules on masks

From now on, if you get on a bus, train or tram, or go shopping in Germany, you need to wear a so-called “medical mask”. It is also recommended that you wear a medical mask in any situation where you might have sustained or close contact with other people - for example, at work, or in busy outside areas. 

The change has been justified on the basis that medical masks provide more protection than “everyday” fabric masks. 

Note that this new rule does not apply in Bavaria, where FFP2 masks have been compulsory on public transport and in shops since Monday, January 18.

What is a medical mask?

The definition “medical mask” covers both general surgical masks (OP-Maske) as well as respirator masks such as the FFP2 or N95. Fabric masks, visors and other face coverings like scarves or buffs are no longer permitted on public transport or in shops. 

If the words FFP2 and N95 mean absolute zilch to you, here’s a quick explainer of the different mask types, and the kinds of protection they offer:

  • “Everyday” masks: Made of fabric, usually have no filtering effect (but some can be fitted with filters). The more layers of fabric, the better protection they provide.
  • Surgical masks: Disposable face masks protect the wearer from splashes, sprays or large droplets. They are not respirators and do not keep out small particles, gases or chemicals. 
  • Respirators: Made of several layers of fabric and paper with built-in filters, respirator masks like FFP2, FFP3 and N95 protect the wearer against particles, and possibly also aerosols. 

In a nutshell: both "surgical masks" (the blue / green / white disposable face masks like the one shown in the photo above) and respirators like FFP2, FFP3 and N95 are considered acceptable "medical masks" under the new rules. Everyday masks made of fabric are not.

It’s worth bearing in mind that no mask can offer 100 percent protection against COVID-19. Experts therefore recommend thinking of them as just one layer of protection against the virus, alongside distance and basic hygiene measures like regularly washing hands. 

Do I have to wear a medical mask on long-distance trains as well?

No - this is an important exception. The medical mask rule currently only applies to local transport - and therefore not regional or long-distance trains operated by Deutsche Bahn. Mouth and nose coverings are mandatory on DB trains, but “everyday” masks are still acceptable.

Where can I get a medical mask?

As well as pharmacies and drugstores, many regular shops in Germany now also sell medical masks, including supermarkets and corner shops. Surgical masks should cost around 1 euro each, while FFP2 masks normally cost somewhere between 2 and 5 euros. 

Whichever type of mask you buy, make sure it displays a CE mark on the packaging, which demonstrates that it is a tested medical product. Police in Germany have reported numerous cases of unscrupulous folks selling fake medical masks. 

Do I have to pay for my mask?

As a general rule, you will have to cover the cost of the mask yourself. The corona ordinance agreed upon by the federal and state governments does not mention any reimbursement or subsidies. However, if you continue going to work, your employer is obliged to provide you with a medical mask. 

In addition, if you are over the age of 60 or have a chronic illness, you will be partially reimbursed. This was decided by the federal government in December. You will receive a voucher from your health insurance company that will allow you to purchase two sets of six masks for just two euros. 

However, the situation may change soon. Due to a public outcry, the Bavarian state government eventually relinquished some ground and said that it would provide 2,5 million free FFP2 masks for people in need. It therefore seems likely that other state governments might follow suit. 



Abi Carter

Managing Editor at IamExpat Media. Abi studied German and History at the University of Manchester and has since lived in Berlin, Hamburg and Utrecht, working since 2017 as a writer,...

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