Germany set to tighten travel rules to limit spread of Covid-19 variants

Germany's Health Minister Jens Spahn wants to impose tougher entry restrictions on people travelling from areas where Covid-19 variants are spreading fast, as well as those with high infection rates.

Germany set to tighten travel rules to limit spread of Covid-19 variants
Lufthansa aircrafts at Frankfurt airport. Photo: DPA

Under the draft plans, the Health Ministry also wants to get mobile phone companies involved with making people aware of the rules when they enter Germany.

On Monday, the Health Ministry sent a draft paper to the other ministries with the planned new regulations, reported Spiegel.

The plans include compulsory testing before departure for all travellers coming into Germany from countries where the two Covid-19 mutations are already rampant. The strict rules are also to apply to countries with a particularly high number of infections.

Countries where the contagious mutations of the virus are spreading fast include the UK, Ireland and South Africa. There is currently a ban on travel from the UK and South Africa until at least January 20th, although residents can now travel into Germany.

READ ALSO: How Brits in the UK can get back to Germany

Under the plans, passengers from these countries (and any others that experience a spread of Covid variants) would only be allowed to enter Germany with a negative coronavirus test from January 14th.

The strict rule, which airlines would have to check during the check-in process, would also apply to all countries where the so-called seven-day incidence (number of coronavirus infections per 100,000 residents in seven days) is above 200.

People entering Germany from these countries would still have to do a mandatory 10-day quarantine, which can be ended after another negative test taken at the earliest five days into self-isolation.

READ ALSO: 'No travel until late May', warns German government

How does this differ from current rules?

The German government recently introduced a 'two-test strategy' under new lockdown rules. It says people coming from 'risk zones' must either arrive with a negative Covid-19 test (no older than 48 hours) – or they can be tested as soon as they arrive in the country. 

That's in addition to the quarantine and second test. People affected by the Health Ministry's new tighter regulations would not be allowed to get a test when they arrive in Germany.

Risk zones are areas with more than 50 new infections per 100,000 residents in seven days. 

German residents are warned against travelling to these places. The Robert Koch Institute provides an updated list here of risk areas here.

TRAVEL: What to know about Germany's two-test strategy on arrivals from 'risk areas'

'Travel is fuelling spread of Covid-19'

The so-called 'Regulation on Protection against Entry-Related Infection Risks' is needed because travel from areas with high coronavirus rates is contributing to the virus spread in Germany, the paper states.

A “nationwide uniform entry test obligation” is necessary so that information is known on how contagious people are when they enter Germany, the paper states. It adds that “uncontrolled entries from abroad” must be stopped.

For many people who have been travelling internationally despite the current lockdown in Germany, the rules mean there would be an obligation to test before returning to Germany.

This would affect, for example, people travelling to Germany from the USA, which currently has a seven-day incidence of 517.

When it comes to countries in Europe, France has an incidence of 195, Italy just under 200 and the UK more than 600.

South Africa currently reports an incidence of just under 220. But Switzerland, a direct neighbour of Germany, is also far above the red line with 270.

Meanwhile, all travellers to Germany must also register online before their trip. With this data, the health authorities should be able to better check that passengers entering Germany stick to the 10-day quarantine in their home or hotel.

What else is planned?

In order not to slow down the economy and business travel, exceptions are built into the regulations. For example, transit passengers, i.e. those travelling through Germany or those who are only in a risk area for a flight change, are to be exempt from the rules.

Likewise, special rules will apply to people dealing with the transport of goods as well as diplomats, politicians and commuters.

For better enforcement of the measures, Spahn also wants to put the onus on German mobile phone providers. With a so-called entry SMS, all travellers logging on for the first time in Germany with German or foreign SIM cards are to be made aware of the strict rules.

Similar welcome messages are already standard in many other countries. The regulation states that these must also be free of charge for foreign roaming customers.

It is also clear from the regulation that the Health Minister does not expect the crisis to end quickly: the strict rules are to apply until at least the end of March 2021.

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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