Germany drops face mask mandate on long-distance transport

BERLIN, Feb. 2 (Xinhua) -- After almost two years, Germany no longer mandates the use of protective face masks on long-distance trains and buses as the COVID-19 pandemic loosened its grip on the country.

The new rule entered into force on Feb. 2. Some of the country's federal states had lifted the mask mandate earlier.

As infection numbers are declining, Minister of Health Karl Lauterbach has brought forward the end of mandatory mask use from April, but continues to recommend voluntary mask use.

Since the beginning of 2023, Germany's COVID-19 incidence has dropped from around 160 cases per 100,000 residents to just 92 on Thursday, according to official figures.

The last remaining measures -- the obligation for infected persons to self-isolate and the mask requirement at healthcare facilities -- are also to be lifted soon.

Meanwhile, German vaccine developer BioNTech is upgrading one of its plants in Marburg, Hesse, at a cost of 40 million euros (43.7 million U.S. dollars) to manufacture its own plasmids for vaccine production, the company announced on Thursday.

Plasmids are ring-shaped DNA molecules that can be used as a central starting material for the production of messenger RNA not only in vaccines against COVID-19 but also in drugs against other infectious diseases and cancer.

"Medical biotechnology is a key technology of the 21st century," Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Thursday during his visit to the BioNTech plant, adding that the pandemic had "proven Germany's capability as a location for innovation and manufacturing of medicines." (1 euro = 1.09 U.S. dollar)

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