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German lawmakers vote to abolish pandemic restrictions

Lawmakers voted Friday to abolish most of Germany's coronavirus pandemic restrictions despite a surge in cases with almost 300,000 new daily cases.

The Bundestag passed an amendment to the pandemic rules in a 388-277 vote with two abstentions. The upper house of parliament, made up of Germany's 16 states, is expected to consider the measure later Friday.

The changes mean that the requirement to wear face masks will be dropped for most public settings from Sunday, though they may still be required on public transport. Visitors of care homes will also continue to need negative COVID-19 tests, but these will not be required any longer in other walks of life.

Karl Lauterbach, German Federal Minister of Health, speaks in the plenary session in the Bundestag during the debate on the Infection Protection Act in Berlin, Germany, Friday, March 18, 2022. (Michael Kappelerdpa via AP)

States can still impose new restrictions to curb outbreaks in virus “hot spots,” but governors have complained that this measure is unworkable given the nationwide increase in cases.

The country's disease control agency reported 297,845 newly confirmed cases in the past 24 hours, and 226 COVID-related deaths.

Health minister Karl Lauterbach defended lifting the restrictions.

“We can't continue to put the entire country under a shield in order to protect a small group of people who are unwilling to get vaccinated,” he said. “The balance is being shifted.”

Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic