Berlin says it still does not know if the measure had any effect on containing the pandemic.
It is unclear if mandatory face masks had any positive effect on fighting the Covid-19 pandemic, Germany’s Health Ministry admitted on Thursday. The measure could not be assessed independently from other steps taken by the government, including the lockdowns, the ministry told Bundestag Vice President Wolfgang Kubicki in response to a request for comment.
“Overall, the effectiveness of individual measures (e.g. mask requirements) cannot be assessed in isolation,” the ministry’s statement read, as quoted by the tabloid Bild. Kubicki blasted the response on his Facebook page as an attempt by the ministry to avoid responsibility on the issue.
“The ministry’s claim that it is not possible to check the effectiveness of the mask requirements independently of other measures is wrong and [is] an attempt to avoid an effectiveness test required under the constitution,” the high-ranking MP representing the business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP) wrote.
According to Bild, the Health Ministry insisted that the mask mandate’s effectiveness had been proven back in 2020, but only in connection with other far-reaching measures such as school closures and lockdowns.
The ministry is now led by a Social Democrat, Karl Lauterbach, who became known during the pandemic as a strong proponent of strict lockdowns and harsh restrictions.
The Bundestag’s vice president also criticized Germany’s health watchdog, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), saying it has not done its job properly. The agency has not studied the effects of the mask mandate, Kubicki wrote, adding that “after more than three years and … hundreds of studies paid for with tax money, we have to draw a conclusion: the result of the RKI work is disastrous.”
Masks were made compulsory for all Germans in April 2020, roughly about a month after Germany officially declared a Covid-19 epidemic within its borders. The regulation was dropped two years later, in April 2022. Two German states, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Hamburg, then made use of the so-called ‘hotspot regulation’ to extend the mask mandate in those areas.
According to Kubicki, the government’s entire Covid-19 policy should now be reviewed by the parliament. He also called for the RKI to be made “more independent” from the Health Ministry.
Germany has faced several scandals linked to the protective masks the government purchased as part of its strategy to fight Covid-19. The Health Ministry was first accused of overpaying for mask supplies that were provided by a company where the husband of then-Health Minister Jens Spahn worked.
Spahn also later landed in hot water for considering distributing faulty masks bought from China to the disabled and homeless.
Image credit: Polina Tankilevitch