German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is facing a fierce backlash after he was photographed on a government plane during a flight to Canada on Monday talking with his Minister of Economic Affairs, Robert Habeck without a face mask on.
Scholz was travelling with a large entourage including as many as 80 journalists, all of whom reportedly weren’t required to wear a mask, during the 11-hour flight from the German capital Berlin to Toronto where the Chancellor is on an official visit.
Germany still has a strict face mask mandate in force on all commercial flights to, from and within the country. Germany’s health ministry or Bundesgesundheitsministerium (often abbreviated to BMG) recently announced that mask laws for airplanes would be extended through to April 2023 at the earliest.
The office of the Chancellery has admitted that none of the passengers onboard the German government Airbus A340 was required to wear a face mask, but a spokesperson insisted that the mandate did not apply because everyone onboard, including Scholz, had to take a PCR test within a few hours of boarding the flight.
A government spokesperson added: “There is no mask requirement on Air Force flights. All participants of the trip must present a current negative PCR test before starting. This ensures a high level of protection.”
The quoted exemption is not specifically written into Germany’s Infection Protection Act.
The explanation has done little to dampen down the furore that has been whipped up by opposition parties, and certain sections of the media over the incident. Alexander Lambsdorff of the Free Democrats (FDP) says it is now “only logical” that mask mandates are repealed for normal German citizens.
An editorial in the respected Der Spiegel newspaper meanwhile said Scholz’s purported face mask exemption couldn’t have been “more disrespectful“.
Die Welt (The World) said the photos exposed all the “absurdity” of continuing pandemic rules, with commentators saying it should have been possible for normal Germans to travel mask free for months.
In fact, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) advised EU member states to drop inflight mask mandates back in May. Germany was one of several countries that ignored the recommendations of the bloc’s official virus experts by keeping its airplane mask mandate in force while dropping masking rules in nearly every other environment.
Pressure is now growing on Berlin to drop mask mandates, but the BMG says the rules are essential to keep Germans safe through the winter months when COVID and the seasonal flu are likely to spike.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.