Germany’s teachers’ union chief has urged a return to mask requirements for elementary schools as the country is seeing a rise in Covid-19 infections among young children.

“Our infection numbers for the school-age group are already significantly higher than a year ago, when, as you know, we had to close schools from mid-December,” Heinz-Peter Meidinger, the president of the German Teachers’ Union, told RND on Wednesday. 

Meidinger argued that another school closure must be avoided “at all costs.” He called for the return of the mask requirements at elementary schools, and said that keeping up regular testing is also important.

The teachers’ union chief expressed hope that a vaccine will be approved for children aged five to 11, as did the lobby group German Child Protection League (DKSB).

Several German states have relaxed or lifted mask mandates at schools in recent weeks. On Tuesday, the minister-president of Schleswig-Holstein, Daniel Gunther, announced that, in “another step towards normality,” students will no longer have to wear masks in class starting from November.

The easing of quarantine rules comes as Germany’s pandemic-related state of emergency, which has been in place since March 2020, is set to expire on November 25.

Some politicians and experts have criticized decisions to drop mask mandates in schools, given the increasing Covid-19 seven-day incidence rate. “Masks are of great importance during the fourth wave [of infections], including in schools,” Karl Lauterbach, a health expert at the Social Democratic Party (SPD), told German media. 

According to the Robert Koch Institute on Tuesday, the seven-day incidence rate among children aged five to 14 has grown to 207.4 and continues to rise. By comparison, the same data for people aged 15 to 34 is 150.7. 

More than 66% of Germans have been fully vaccinated as of Tuesday, according to government statistics.

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