According to a report by Welt am Sonntag, the German government is considering a new law that would mandate the wearing of masks inside buildings between October and Easter for the foreseeable future. In order to justify the move, several politicians, including Chancellor Scholz and Health Minister Lauterbach (both of the SPD), have used the analogy of vehicles making use of different “tires” depending on the season. The idea is that mask mandates and other safeguards which may not be necessary in the summer months become urgent once winter hits. Meanwhile, not even coalition members from the liberal FDP are sold on the idea.
The current German Infection Protection Act is scheduled to last until September 23rd—and introducing a mask mandate from October till Easter is one of the proposals being discussed as an amendment for a renewal of the current act. Before the end of June, an interdisciplinary commission of experts is scheduled to present a report that will evaluate the effectiveness of COVID measures in the German states and the federal government. Welt am Sonntag claims that the members of the commission have already come to the conclusion that mask mandates were among the more effective measures that helped reduce the spread of infections.
On June 2nd Chancellor Olaf Scholz first drew the comparison with vehicle tires: “Right now we’re on summer tires, if I may choose this analogy. It’s about having the correct winter tires ready when it matters. And if it happens to be a very icy landscape, we might need even more measures to travel safely.”
The winter tire analogy was picked up by Health Minister Karl Lauterbach in a press conference on June 17th, in which he recommended that citizens, who have been vaccinated thrice should get a fourth shot, even though this clearly exceeds the recommendation of the Standing Committee on Vaccination. On top of that, Lauterbach held up his FFP2 mask and called upon people to wear masks inside buildings of their own volition. Such voluntary guidance, Lauterbach said, represents “the summer tires, if you will.” In applying those, individuals are able to protect themselves, Lauterbach explained, stressing that no further mandatory laws are planned during the summer.
He admitted, however, that legally restrictive, involuntary “winter tires” are already in the works. Lauterbach announced that “it is clear that we will need more than what we have as summer tires right now,” adding: “And based on that, you can deduce what the likely result will be.”
This has been met with disapproval not only by the opposition but also by coalition members from the FDP. Wolfgang Kubicki (FDP) questioned the rationale behind the proposal. “Those who believe political measures and specific restrictions on fundamental rights should be made based on the calendar, and not based on whether the health system is overburdened, don’t want a return to normalcy,” said Kubicki. “Those people instead want to provoke division in society.”
Also Tino Sorge, health spokesman of the Christian-Democratic CDU/CSU alliance, also criticized the move. It may be “well-meant advice,” but making it a law would be “questionable,” he said according to Sorge. “Corona doesn’t follow the regularities of the calendar,” and whether a mask mandate is needed should be decided “based on the current status of infections.”
Similarly, the virologist and epidemiologist Klaus Stöhr advised against excessive mask-wearing. He instead argued that the current summer wave (infection numbers in Germany are on the rise) creates an “opportunity” to “enter the endemic phase.” By encouraging the wearing of masks right now, Germany fails to avail itself of a real “opportunity to deal with the Coronavirus in the long run.” Sooner or later, “everybody will get infected,” and it’s better to do so now in summer, rather than postponing it to winter when hospitals are generally more crowded.
Supporters of the mask mandate hope that obligatory mask-wearing will also reign in other respiratory infections. If the mask mandate were to be passed into law, it would include all shops and restaurants, in addition, next to hospitals and public transport, where mask mandates are already in place. Whether the anticipated expansion mask mandate would also apply to schools is currently unknown. It also has not yet been decided yet for how many years such a law would be in effect, but it would be likely at the very least to remain on the books for several years.
David Boos is an organist, documentary filmmaker, and writer for The European Conservative and other publications.