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German city follows Austria and stipulates face masks for shoppers

File photo: REUTERS/Paul Childs/File Photo

The city of Jena in eastern Germany has decided to make people wear face masks when shopping or travelling by public transport, stepping up efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus and becoming the first city in the country to take the step.

For the last two weeks, states around Germany have closed schools, restaurants, bars and banned public gatherings as they try to tackle the outbreak but the number of cases and deaths is still rising fast.

Jena, which has 119 cases of the coronavirus, decided to follow Austria which on Monday said it was requiring shoppers to wear basic face masks in supermarkets.

“Jena has decided to introduce further steps to protect the population. In a week’s time, wearing mouth and nose protection in shops in Jena, on public transport and buildings with public traffic will be compulsory,” the town hall said in a statement.

Given shortages of face masks, the town also said towels or scarves wrapped over peoples’ mouths and noses would be acceptable.

German officials have stressed now is not the time to loosen social distancing measures introduced more than two weeks ago but experts and politicians are already debating how Europe’s biggest economy will unwind the lockdown measures.

A health ministry spokesman said on Monday that an obligation for the general public to wear masks may have a role to play later, saying masks for shoppers could help protect others from contracting the illness from the wearer.

Another option is to launch a smartphone app to help trace coronavirus infections, an approach pioneered by Singapore which German officials think could be effective without invading people’s privacy.

The number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Germany has risen to 61,913 and 583 people have died of the disease, statistics from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Tuesday.

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