Those who fly on vacation will soon no longer have to wear a mask – those who take the train will. The easing of air traffic is causing a stir. How useful it is to wear a mask, what effects it has – and which it doesn’t.

There it is again, the discussion about mouth and nose protection. As soon as the federal cabinet had introduced an FFP2 mask requirement for autumn and winter for certain situations and other options for the federal states, debates began about it.

The vote in the Bundestag is due this Thursday, and on Tuesday the Health Committee decided that masks should no longer be compulsory on airplanes. How effective masks are and whether they can also have negative effects – questions and answers:

Various scientific analyzes show that masks protect against infection with the corona virus. In mid-2020, for example, an overview study published in the journal “The Lancet” found that face masks can significantly reduce the risk of infection.

A study by the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization in Göttingen also provided concrete figures. If a non-infected and an infected person wear well-fitting FFP2 masks, the maximum risk of infection after 20 minutes, even at the shortest distance in a room, is little more than one per thousand. Even surgical masks – which do not fit so tightly and do not filter potentially infectious droplets from the air we breathe so well – significantly reduce the risk: the probability of infection is then at most ten percent, according to the result of the study.

“If I don’t want to get infected, I wear a mask. Very simple,” says the physicist Eberhard Bodenschatz, who played a key role in the Max Planck study in Göttingen. The large respiratory air droplets are the most contagious because of their volume. “Masks take away these large particles. That means you can no longer infect anyone with a well-fitting mask.”

Very practical: they can be uncomfortable and annoying. Especially if you wear them for a long time. “If I have a model that doesn’t fit well, the straps on the ears press – that’s uncomfortable,” says behavioral therapist Cornelia Beeking, who treats children and young people in her practice in Münster. That’s why it’s important to find a comfortable mask. If children wear masks at school, there should be regular mask breaks outside.

The Professional Association of Pediatricians (BVKJ) has a clear stance on this very topic – masks in schools: “We are opposed to making masks compulsory in secondary schools for autumn and winter,” says spokesman Jakob Maske. Of course you are not unworldly: In certain situations this makes sense to avoid infections. But you have to weigh the costs and benefits very carefully.

“We rarely have severe courses in children and adolescents. And we know that we cannot stop the infections, we can only delay them,” said Maske. Together with the vaccination, these are an important component of the defense against infection. The pediatrician also sees facial expressions such as communication and thus social contacts at school restricted by masks.

Previous studies do not allow any general statements on possible psychological problems in children. “On the basis of the insufficient study situation, only a few findings can be derived on the effects of wearing a mask on various areas of development in children and adolescents,” says an overview article from October 2021. There is a lack of research data on the consequences for psychological development, language development and social issues Behavior.

Psychotherapist Beeking emphasizes: “I don’t know of any child who is mentally ill just from wearing a mask.” The same also applies to her colleagues, with whom she exchanges information on an ongoing basis. She sees the problem more on the part of the parents – when they are unsettled by statements that a mask could restrict their children emotionally and impair their development. If this uncertainty is passed on, acceptance could be severely impaired.

Alleged problems caused by the mask when communicating at school? In children of this age, language development is already so far completed that not only seeing the mouth is relevant, explains Beeking. “Other factors play an additional role, for example intonation. That’s not a problem with a mask – otherwise, by the way, blind children could never learn to speak.”

FFP2 masks increase breathing resistance, which can be uncomfortable. For all people who do not suffer from (chronic) respiratory diseases, for example, wearing it is harmless to health. Reviews give a clear picture: Wearing masks during physical exertion practically does not change vital parameters such as heartbeat and respiratory rate. A study by the Bergische Universität Wuppertal confirms: FFP2 masks do not affect the endurance capacity of healthy people – even though the test subjects had to perform high breathing efforts.

The Technical University of Berlin recently carried out an experiment to investigate whether masks can have an impact on mental performance. It turned out that the participants were equally able to cope with a stressful situation with mental arithmetic tasks with and without a mask. In addition, the test subjects stated that their mental stress had not changed as a result of wearing them.

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