GA English on Sunday News in Brief for the Weekend
Bonn · Coronavirus numbers remain high at schools and teachers' representatives criticise end of facemask mandate; NRW state government hopes masks will still be worn in crowded indoor spaces; pharmacists' association welcomes extension of free Coronavirus tests.
Coronavirus numbers at schools remain high. Last week, around 347,000 cases of infection and quarantine were reported among schoolchildren in the federal states, the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder (KMK) announced on Friday (previous week 348,000). Among teachers, 36 400 COVID-19 and quarantine cases were reported (previous week 35 700).
The figures, which are published weekly, only give a rough overview, as complete data from all federal states is not available. Among schoolchildren, cases of Coronavirus infections peaked at almost 550 000 in the first two weeks of February. At the same time, there were 28 200 known cases among teachers. In total, there are about 11 million pupils and almost 900 000 teachers at about 40 000 schools and vocational schools in Germany.
In view of the figures, teachers’ representatives criticised the end of the mask mandate at most schools in Germany. "With incidence rates at schools still extremely high, the end of compulsory masks means ending the simplest health protection for employees, children and young people as well as their parents," Maike Finnern, chairperson of the Education and Science Union (GEW), told the Deutsche Presse-Agentur. Ending the mandate was "completely premature", said the President of the German Teachers' Association, Heinz-Peter Meidinger.
Mask appeal replaces compulsory masks
After a good two years of pandemic, the vast majority of Coronavirus restrictions will now be lifted in NRW. As of midnight on Sunday, both the 3G (vaccinated, newly recovered or tested) and the 2G plus (vaccinated, newly recovered plus tested or boosted) requirements have been lifted. The general requirement to wear a face mask in public indoor areas has also been abolished. But members of the state government are appealing to people to voluntarily wear a protective mask in crowded indoor spaces. They are also appealing to event organisers to introduce hygiene concepts to reduce risk of infection.
According to the Ministry of Health, the obligation to wear masks will only remain in a few areas, such as local public transport - i.e. travelling by bus and train. It will also continue to apply in medical facilities such as doctors' offices and hospitals, as well as in nursing homes. This will provide special protection for the elderly and for individuals with underlying health conditions. The mask mandate remain in state-run facilities for the accommodation of large numbers of people, such as refugee and homeless shelters and prisons.
Pharmacists' association welcomes extension of free Coronavirus tests
The Pharmacists' Association of North Rhine welcomes the extension of free Coronavirus tests (Bürgertests), but expects there will be a decline in demand. After the abolition of the mask mandate and the expected relaxing of isolation and quarantine requirements, it is all the more important that the offer of free testing remains, association head Thomas Preis told the "Rheinische Post" on Friday. "Following the discontinuation of the 2G and 3G regulations, many test sites will probably close soon. But we assume that pharmacies will continue to offer so Bürgertests nationwide," Preis said.
In the fight against Coronavirus infections, the offer of free rapid tests for all has been extended into early summer. The test regulation, which regulates the so-called "Bürgertests" (citizen tests), was originally meant to be in place until 30 March, but it will now remain in force until 29June. This is according to amendments by Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD), which were announced in the Federal Gazette on Wednesday.
As a result of the federal Infection Protection Act, the access requirements 3G and 2G-plus as well as the mask mandate in public indoor areas will also be dropped in NRW after 2 April, as the NRW Ministry of Health announced on Friday. Masks will only have to be worn on local public transport, medical and nursing facilities, and state institutions for the accommodation of many people. Hospitals and care facilities may also still only be entered with a current negative test certificate, the ministry said.