COVID: Germany debates making N95 masks mandatory | TBEN | 13.01.2021

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Bavarian State Prime Minister Markus Söder of the Christian Social Union (CSU) is never short of ideas when it comes to tackling the coronavirus pandemic. Just days after suggesting that vaccination be mandatory for health workers, he announced that from Monday, N95 masks (known as FFP2 masks in Germany and KN95 in China) would become mandatory in shops and on public transport.

The southern state of Germany is alone with the plan in Germany so far, not least because many states have lower infection rates. But health experts love it.

“FFP” stands for “filtering facepiece”. One main difference from mouth-to-nose coverings that have become a common sight around the world is that they are closer to the face and filter both inhaled and exhaled air.

Better protection

Virologist Alexander Kekule continues: “Of course, an FFP mask offers better protection than normal nose covers, which are often worn too loosely. Especially in public transport, where people are often crowded. He says an FFP significantly reduces the risk of infection.

“I support the idea in principle,” said fellow virologist Jonas Schmidt-Chanasit. He added, however, that there is no point in simply insisting that everyone wear one, saying there must be free access to the masks and information on how to wear them properly.

FFP2 or N95 masks are normally used in work situations due to the higher specifications, which in turn results in higher costs. In Germany, they cost around € 2.50 each. This makes them virtually unaffordable for low-income families if the state does not intervene.

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Officially, FFP2 masks can only be used once. Left Party leader Katja Kipping was quick to assert that “making FFP2 masks compulsory without providing them for free would effectively mean that the poor would be totally excluded from public life.”

Since December, subsidized FFP2 masks have been available free of charge in pharmacies for seniors and other high-risk patients. The media indicate that Bavaria plans to distribute some 2 million masks to those who cannot afford them.

Beard problem

Even if the law is introduced, it may not have the desired effect. The head of hospital hygiene at the Hamburg-Eppendorf University Clinic, Johannes Knobloch, warns against excessive expectations: “If they don’t fit perfectly, they are no better than normal disposable masks”, Knobloch says. He points out another complication: “FFP masks are only used for clean shaven men.” Even some stubble, he says, can render a mask ineffective because air can enter and exit without being filtered.

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FFP2 in the Bundestag

Söder says it’s not just about protecting the wearer, but those around them as well. And he says, there is no shortage of masks as at the start of the crisis. However, German Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) made no mention of it in his political speech to the Bundestag on Wednesday.

Söder got some sort of backing from the leader of the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP) Christian Lindner. He recommended considering the idea as it should and perhaps removing other restrictions. And judging by the number of FFP2 masks worn in the Bundestag, Söder already has a political majority behind him.

This article has been translated from German.

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