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FactCheck: No, a German city has not ruled that compulsory mask-wearing is illegal

Guidance on mask-wearing in the German city of Düsseldorf has recently been updated, but the requirement to wear a mask has not been banned as claims suggest.

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A CLAIM SHARED widely on social media in Ireland in recent days has suggested that a German city has said that compulsory mask-wearing is not legal after a court ruled that masks posed a danger to health. 

The claim, which gained traction in Ireland three days ago, suggests that a blanket ban has been placed on any rule requiring mask-wearing in the German city of Düsseldorf.

In fact, requirements to wear a mask in almost all social settings in the city remain in place. The guidance on mask-wearing in Düsseldorf has been updated slightly since a recent court finding that the rules needed to be more specific, but not because of any danger from masks. 

The Claim

The claim that mandatory mask-wearing was outlawed in Düsseldorf has spread widely in recent days.

The most common version of the post shares a screenshot of a tweet that states a court in Germany had accepted that “mask-wearing results in oxygen deprivation and brain damage after just two hours” and that the “mask mandate in Dusseldorf is now declared illegal”. 

Dusseldorf Facebook claim

One post on an Irish Facebook page sharing the claim has received 353 reactions, 97 comments, and has been shared 218 times.

Another has been reacted to 128 times, commented on 9 times, and shared 176 times, and a third has received 49 reactions, 14 comments, and 110 shares.

One post sharing the claim on Facebook said that the “mask mandate [was] made illegal in Germany after it was proved they are detrimental to health”. The post has received 111 reactions and 44 comments, and has been shared 272 times.

The Evidence

Düsseldorf has not lifted its requirement for people to wear masks in specific public settings.

The city issued a decree on Wednesday 4 November that required masks to be worn across the entire city area, in addition to guidance on mask-wearing that had been in place since April which called for masks in most indoor public settings.

The new additional rule would have expanded compulsory mask-wearing to pedestrians and any other path users, and the only exception would have been in non-built up areas, such as green spaces.

On 10 November, the Düsseldorf Administrative Court found that the new rule on wearing a mask throughout the city was too general to comply with the legal principle of certainty, which requires laws to be clear enough for people to know how to follow them.

This means that the court found the rule was not detailed enough in specifying where or when masks would need to be worn to ensure that people would be able to understand how to comply with it.

In response, the guidance in Düsseldorf was updated the next day to address the court’s decision. The requirement to wear a mask in the city area now applies specifically to urban areas that are visited by a large number of people at the same time, including:

  • Streets with a significant number of retail shops between 10am and 7pm
  • The squares in front of and behind the main train/underground station in Düsseldorf between 6am and 10pm

Dusseldorf The areas in front and behind of Düsseldorf's main train station, where pedestrians are required to wear masks between 6am and 10pm. The rule is in addition to guidance about mask-wearing in other social settings. Source: Düsseldorf City portal

Düsseldorf is following the Covid-19 guidelines in place in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, which covers cities in the northwest of Germany.

Across the North-Rhine Westphalia state, current guidance requires that masks are worn in closed rooms in public spaces; on public transport; during close-contact services or training activities, such as in medical practices and in the healthcare sector; in public city buildings, schools, and day-care centers; educational events in closed rooms; meetings, assemblies and events in closed rooms; and in playgrounds.

Exceptions to the mask requirement are in place for children up to school entry; people who have a medical exemption; teachers, if social distancing can be observed; and rescue services, security authorities, fire brigades, and disaster control in emergency situations.

Additionally, people are allowed to temporarily remove their mask for specific reasons, such as to communicate with a Deaf person or to eat and drink on long-distance trains. In a work setting, it is permitted to use protective measures such as glass partitions instead of masks for employees.

Between 3 March and 18 November, 8,810 Dusseldorf residents have been diagnosed with Covid-19, with 1,035 currently infected. The city’s Covid-19 restrictions and guidelines, including mask-wearing, are in place in a bid to curb the spread of the virus.

It can be seen that the court’s ruling on the city’s recent addition to its guidelines, which has since been updated, related to the specificity of the rule.

Despite this, social media users have claimed that the court found there was a risk to people’s health from masks, which is not true.

 The summary of the case as published by the court makes no reference to any discussion of dangers posed by masks. Instead, the focus is on the lack of specificity in the decree that the city brought in. 

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This is not to say that dangers from masks, either real or imagined, may not have been mentioned at any stage during the hearing.

However, this was not included in the court’s findings and did not form part of its decision-making, in contrast to the claims that have been made on social media.

A variety of false claims have been made during the Covid-19 pandemic arguing that masks can cause various risks to health, many of which TheJournal.ie has already debunked.

One false claim that has repeatedly surfaced on social media is that Legionnaires’ disease, a type of pneumonia that can cause serious illness in people over 50, smokers, or people with underlying health conditions, can be caused by mask-wearing.

However, the HSE has said that Legionnaire’s disease cannot be contracted by wearing a mask and that infections with Legionnaire’s have been lower in Ireland this year compared to 2019.

Other claims about health risks from masks – that they disrupt pH levels and increase cancer risk, that they cause flu-like symptoms, or that they reduce oxygen intake - are also false and have been debunked.

The Verdict

Düsseldorf, in line with many cities in Germany and around the world, introduced a requirement to wear a face covering in certain social settings earlier in the Covid-19 pandemic. That requirement remains in place.

Earlier this month, the city introduced an additional rule that masks were to be worn across the entire city area by pedestrians and any other road users on paths.

The Düsseldorf Administrative Court found that the rule was too general to comply with the legal principle of certainty. Instead, following the court’s finding, the rule will apply specifically to urban areas with high foot traffic at certain times, including in popular retail spots and near the main train station.

The court’s finding did not relate to any supposed risk to health posed by masks. A variety of false claims suggesting that masks have adverse health effects have already been proven to be untrue.

As a result, we rate the claim that a German court banned mandatory masks because of a risk to health: FALSE. As per our verdict guide, this means: The claim is inaccurate.

TheJournal.ie’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here.

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