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Germany Mandates Medical-Grade Masks

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Amid rising infections and hospitalizations associated with new, more contagious, variants of Covid-19 throughout Europe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has announced that all individuals in the country would be required to wear medical-grade face masks, as opposed to merely cloth coverings, when in the workplace, on public transportation, and in shops.

Key Facts

Germans will be mandated to wear either single-use filtering facepiece respirator (FFP) surgical masks or FFP-2 masks, such as N95s.

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Merkel said the threat of the U.K coronavirus variant, known as B.1.1.7., is the primary reason for the intensified regulations.

Over the past few days, France’s government has acknowledged they are considering a similar mandate, with the nation’s high council for public health declaring that many cloth masks do not guarantee protection against the new variants.

Key Background:

According to a study published in the Lancet medical journal over the summer, “both N95 and surgical masks have a stronger association with protection compared with single-layer masks.” However, due to the limited supply of medical-grade face coverings, counties such as the United States have advised their citizens against purchasing them, in the hopes of ensuring frontline medical workers have an adequate supply. The World Health Organization recommends fabric or cloth masks for the general public, advising that medical masks be reserved for “medical workers, people who have coronavirus symptoms, those coming into contact with them, and those who are over 60 or at high risk.” According to a report in The Guardian on Wednesday, questions regarding the availability of FFP2 face coverings have “yet to be answered.” In mid-December, the German government sent out vouchers for medical-grade masks to more than 34 million citizens over the age of 60, those with a history of illness such as cancer. “But to supply filter masks to 80 million people, that’s a different challenge,” said a spokesperson for the Federal Union of German Associations of Pharmacists. “I wouldn’t want to speculate on the outcome.”

Big Number:

48,770. That’s the number of Germans that have been killed by the coronavirus, as of Wednesday morning, according to the Robert Koch Institute, the country’s public health institution.

Crucial Quote: 

“The better the quality of mask you can wear, the more effective that will be at stopping transmission, but you need to put affordability and accessibility into that as well,” said Jimmy Whitworth, a public health professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. According to Whitworth, Germany’s mandate is “touching off discussion in the U.K. about ramping up mask requirements.”

Further Reading:

Europe’s growing mask ask: Ditch the cloth ones for medical-grade coverings (WaPo)

France may follow Germany in making clinical masks mandatory (The Guardian)

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