What's the situation?
Travelling within Germany is very tricky at the moment. That's because there's a ban on staying overnight in accommodation, such as hotels or holiday homes, if you're coming from a risk area in the country.
There are now calls to reverse this rule – even though it was only introduced last week. Critics say it's causing confusion and hitting the hospitality industry hard.
Berliners, for example, are allowed to visit and go shopping or eat out in the neighbouring state of Brandenburg, but are no longer allowed to stay in hotels there. However, as Berlin has not introduced the accommodation ban, people from Brandenburg can stay overnight in Berlin.
The ban was introduced as a semi-uniform regulation after some states began introducing their own travel restrictions, such as quarantine and testing requirements, on internal risk zones in Germany.
Several places in Germany are currently classed as risk areas because there have been more than 50 coronavirus infections per 100,000 residents in the last seven days.
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Among the risk areas are Berlin, Frankfurt, Cologne and Stuttgart plus many other places. The graph below by DPA shows the 'risk zones' in Germany as of October 11th.
'A mistake has been made'
Several politicians are calling for a reversal of the rule.
The President of the German Association of Cities and Towns, Leipzig's mayor Burkhard Jung, spoke in favour of lifting the ban on accommodation for travellers from internal coronavirus risk areas.
He told newspapers from the Funke Media Group on Monday that the regulation “had not been thought through, it will have to be reconsidered”. He added that “we have no evidence that hotels or bus and train traffic are hotspots. The hotspots are being created somewhere else entirely”.
Most of the 16 states (except Berlin, Bremen and Thuringia) decided last Wednesday and Thursday that residents from places with high coronavirus infection rates within Germany can only be accommodated overnight if they can present a negative Covid-19 test that is no more than 48 hours old. This applies to travellers from areas with more than 50 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants within seven days.
However, due the federal system, there can still be differences from state to state. For example, some states might require two negative coronavirus tests spaced out between five days before they allow someone from a risk area to stay in a hotel.
Karl Lauterbach, the Social Democrat's (SPD) health spokesman, said of the ban: “A mistake has been made, it should be cleared up.”
“No study shows that travelling within Germany is a driver of the pandemic. So we are not solving a problem with these rules, because there is no problem there.”
The limit of 50 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants will be exceeded in a very short time in many places in Germany, said Lauterbach.
Moreover, many details of the ban seem arbitrary. “If rules like these are maintained, the population's support for rules that are sensible and important will be lost,” he added.
'Makes no sense at all'
Berlin's mayor, Michael Müller, of the SPD, and North Rhine-Westphalia's state premier Armin Laschet of the Christian Democrats (CDU), announced they would be discussing the ban at the state premiers' conference on Wednesday.
“Now we are seeing nationwide how the numbers (…) are rising in all major cities. Accommodation bans between Berlin and Brandenburg, for example, make no sense at all,” Müller said on the ZDF programme “Berlin direkt”.
A hotel in Cologne. Photo: DPA
“We have hundreds of thousands of commuters every day. They meet in the retail trade, on local transport, at work. And then a Berliner is not allowed to stay overnight in the Spreewald (in Brandenburg) for two days. None of this makes sense.”
NRW leader Laschet explained that his state had established a corresponding regulation, but had not put it into effect, saying the situation is different when dozens of places are risk zones, rather than or two.
“I think we should talk about this again,” he said.
Criticism also came from the opposition. “I consider the blanket restriction of freedom of movement within Germany to be disproportionate,” Free Democrats party and parliamentary group leader Christian Lindner told Die Welt on Monday.
Dietmar Bartsch, leader of the Left parliamentary group, added: “The current ban on accommodation is illogical, because it prohibits, for example, travel from Berlin to Brandenburg, but not vice versa”.
The German Hotel and Restaurant Association (Dehoga) said it expected legal action against the ban on accommodation to be lodged the courts this week.
'Genuine emergency measure'
However, not everyone believes the restrictions are a bad thing. Chancellor Angela Merkel's chief of staff Helge Braun defended the ban on overnight stays.
“Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania as a whole has an incidence rate of something like around 5 (infections per 100,000 people in last seven days), and Berlin over 60.
“When such differences in the incidence rate of infection occur, I think it is quite clear that everyone wants to protect themselves, and then in the end something like this is inevitable,” the CDU politician said on the ARD programme “Bericht aus Berlin”.
The really important thing is that the cities get below the 50 mark, Braun said. “If we manage to do that, travel will not be a problem.” The ban on accommodation is therefore a “genuine emergency measure”, he added.
Possible more aid for the hospitality industry
Meanwhile, federal Economics Minister Peter Altmaier discussed the prospect of additional aid for restaurateurs.
“If it now turns out that there is a risk of another substantial drop in sales for restaurateurs, hoteliers and restaurant owners because people are insecure and do not come, then I, as Economics Minister, am of the opinion: we must help those affected more,” he said.
“I do not want these family businesses to give up and disappear and then we may end up with nothing but fast food chains.”
Altmaier also spoke out in favour of more uniformity in the coronavirus travel rules: “There must be a uniform and clear regulation so that every citizen knows where he stands.” Altmaier said that the 16 federal states were responsible for reaching a common agreement.
SPD leader Saskia Esken also called for a nationwide approach. “The development of corona infection figures is worrying and everything must be done to contain the pandemic,” she told the newspapers of the Funke Media Group.
Uniform regulations, for example on travel restrictions, should be part of the the Protection Against Infection Act, she added. This would help the population to accept the rules.