People in the southeastern German state of Bavaria now have to wear so-called FFP2 facemasks in shops and on public transport, and neighbouring Austria is getting ready to introduce a similar rule nationwide.
FFP2 masks – also known as respirators – have higher filtering capabilities than surgical masks, and since the start of the coronavirus pandemic they have been mostly set aside for frontline health workers most exposed to aerosols, or tiny airborne particles of the virus.
Until now, cloth masks or surgical masks were acceptable face coverings while out and about in Bavaria. But from Monday (January 18), FFP2 respirators must be worn in all public transport and shops across the state.
Austria, which has extended its lockdown until February 7, will introduce the same rule nationwide from next Monday (January 25).
Who will foot the bill?
FFP2 respirators are significantly more expensive than standard medical masks. According to the Bavarian Trade Association, FFP2 respirators typically cost between €1 and €5 each.
The Bavarian state has pledged to provide 2.5 million of them free of charge for people in need. The state has a total population of around 13 million people.
Authorities in Austria, meanwhile, have promised to make FFP2 respirators available at cost price and to provide them for free to low-income households.
Authorities across Europe are tightening lockdown restrictions and social distancing rules amid fears that more contagious variants of coronavirus, like the ones first identified in the UK, Brazil and South Africa, could cause infections to spiral out of control.