Austria lifts travel warning for German state of North Rhine-Westphalia

Austria has withdrawn a general travel warning for Germany's most populous state issued after a massive coronavirus outbreak at a meat processing plant.

Austria lifts travel warning for German state of North Rhine-Westphalia
Archive photo shows an Austrian Airlines plane above Frankfurt. Photo: DPA

The country put the warning in place for people travelling from North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) following the outbreak at Tönnies meat plant in Gütersloh.

Now it has been lifted – but the ban remains in place on the Gütershloh district of NRW.

“As of today (Sunday) at midnight, the general travel warning for North Rhine-Westphalia will be lifted; it will only apply to the district of Gütersloh,” said Elisabeth Köstinger, the Austrian minister responsible for tourism, during a live broadcast organised by German newspaper Bild.

If people from Gütersloh want to visit neighbouring Austria, they have to present a negative coronavirus test that is less than 48 hours old.

Those who can do this will “be able to start their vacation in Austria”, said Köstinger.

NRW is Germany's most populous state with nearly 18 million residents. Austria is a hugely popular holiday destination for Germans, In 2019, 5.74 million people from Germany took a holiday there, according to Statista.

Two German districts on lockdown

More than 2,000 employees at the Tönnies slaughterhouse in the Gütersloh district are confirmed to have contracted coronavirus in the largest single outbreak in Germany since the country began lifting measures put in place to stem the spread of Covid-19.

As the Local has been reporting, the district, along with neighbouring Warendorf, were put on lockdown last week in a bid to control the virus and stop it spreading to the wider population.

READ ALSO: Explained – What you need to know about Germany's new local coronavirus lockdown

On Sunday night the district reported 107 new infections not connected to Tönnies in the last seven days. Authorities believe the increased number is likely down to mass testing across the area, however, they are concerned about community spread.

In Gütersloh and Warendorf, anyone can be tested for coronavirus free of charge.

In Warendorf, as of Sunday, only two people without any connection to Tönnies had tested positive, said district administrator Olaf Gericke.

Much like the rules that came into force across German states at the height of the epidemic in March, the lockdown has forced the closure of many businesses and facilities.

The measures are in place until at least tomorrow, Tuesday June 30th but could be extended. State premier Armin Laschet was set to give an update on the situation on Monday.

Travel warnings

Several federal states have established rules for travellers coming from places with an increased incidence of infection.

Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria and Lower Saxony, for example, have said they will not take bookings for accommodation from anyone from Gütersloh.

In Schleswig-Holstein, travellers from affected regions have to stay in quarantine for two weeks if they travel to the region. In Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, holidaymakers from risk areas are not allowed to enter the state, and people from Gütersloh have even been asked to leave in some regions.

Exceptions are only made if holidaymakers can present a negative test certificate.

READ ALSO: Will coronavirus testing before holidays become the norm in Germany?


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Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

German health ministers say that tougher Covid restrictions should come back into force if a serious wave emerges in autumn.

Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

Following a video meeting on Monday, the health ministers of Germany’s 16 states said tougher restrictions should be imposed again if they are needed. 

“The corona pandemic is not over yet – we must not be deceived by the current declining incidences,” said Saxony-Anhalt’s health minister Petra Grimm-Benne, of the Social Democrats, who currently chairs the Conference of Health Ministers (GMK).

According to the GMK, new virus variants are expected to appear in autumn and winter. Over the weekend, federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) also warned that the more dangerous Delta variant could return to Germany. “That is why the federal Ministry of Health should draw up a master plan to combat the corona pandemic as soon as possible and coordinate it with the states,” Grimm-Benne said.

Preparations should also include an amendment of the Infection Protection Act, ministers urged. They want to see the states given powers to react to the infection situation in autumn and winter. They called on the government to initiate the legislative process in a timely manner, and get the states actively involved.

The current Infection Protection Act expires on September 23rd this year. Germany has loosened much of its Covid restrictions in the last months, however, face masks are still compulsory on public transport as well as on planes. 

READ ALSO: Do people in Germany still have to wear Covid masks on planes?

The health ministers said that from autumn onwards, it should be possible for states to make masks compulsory indoors if the regional infection situation calls for it. Previously, wearing a Covid mask was obligatory in Germany when shopping and in restaurants and bars when not sitting at a table. 

Furthermore, the so-called 3G rule for accessing some venues and facilities – where people have to present proof of vaccination, recovery, or a negative test – should be implemented again if needed, as well as other infection protection rules, the ministers said. 

Bavaria’s health minister Klaus Holetschek, of the CSU, welcomed the ministers’ unanimous call for a revision of the Infection Protection Act. “The states must be able to take all necessary infection protection measures quickly, effectively, and with legal certainty,” he said.

North Rhine-Westphalia’s health minister Karl-Josef Laumann (CDU) warned that no one should “lull themselves into a false sense of security”.

“We must now prepare for the colder season and use the time to be able to answer important questions about the immunity of the population or the mechanisms of infection chains,” he said.

On Tuesday, Germany reported 86,253 Covid infections within the latest 24 hour period, as well as 215 Covid-related deaths. The 7-day incidence stood at 437.6 infections per 100,000 people. However, experts believe there could be twice as many infections because lots of cases go unreported. 

READ ALSO: Five things to know about the Covid pandemic in Germany right now