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Travel: Germany to demand negative Covid-19 test from all air passengers

Anyone wanting to arrive in Germany by plane must from Monday onwards show a negative Covid test before boarding, the health ministry said, amid concerns over German tourists flocking to Mallorca over the Easter holidays.

Travel: Germany to demand negative Covid-19 test from all air passengers
Travellers waiting at Hanover's airport on Thursday for a flight to Mallorca. Photo: DPA

The start date of the new measure was postponed from Sunday at midnight to Monday at midnight in order to give more time for airlines to prepare, said Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) in Berlin on Friday.

Airline crews are exempt from the new rules. The test must be less than 48 hours old and is to be paid for by the passenger.

The move comes as Germany is battling a sharp rise in coronavirus infections, fuelled by new virus variants, while the country’s Covid vaccination drive is still sluggish.

The Easter holidays next week have added to concerns, with thousands of Germans set to travel to the Spanish island of Mallorca after it was taken off Germany’s list of coronavirus “risk areas” earlier in March.

READ ALSO: ‘Germans are coming back’: Spaniards sceptical over return of tourists

Airlines are laying on hundreds of extra flights to cope with the surge in demand, piling pressure on the government to find ways to ensure that returning holidaymakers do not worsen the coronavirus’ spread in Germany.

Last summer, according to some reports, the virus was also brought to Germany by some travellers.

The government has already said it is considering a temporary ban on travel to popular holiday destinations abroad, but such a step would face high legal hurdles.

READ ALSO: Germany considers temporary ban on foreign travel

Until now, only passengers coming from Robert Koch Institute (RKI)-designated “high-risk” coronavirus areas are required to show a negative test upon arrival in Germany.

Through the introduction of compulsory testing, the German government is refraining from designating individual regions or countries as risk areas, but rather putting in place a general obligation to test all air travellers on their way to Germany for the first time.

“Testing prior to departure will reduce the likelihood that infected persons will travel and infect others during the flight or cause an additional entry of SARS-CoV-2 infections into Germany,” stated the draft regulation, which is to be limited until May 12th.

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COVID-19

Munich sees sharp rise in Covid cases after Oktoberfest

Since the start of Germany’s Oktoberfest, the incidence of Covid infections in Munich has risen sharply. Though a connection with the festival can’t yet be proven, it seems likely.

Munich sees sharp rise in Covid cases after Oktoberfest

Two weeks after the start of Oktoberfest, the Covid numbers in Munich have more than tripled.

On Sunday, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported an incidence of 768.7 for the city of Munich, though updated figures for the end of the festival are not expected until later in the week. Usually, on weekends and public holidays, there is a delay in reports.

In the entire state of Bavaria, the incidence value on Sunday was 692.5.

According to Munich’s public health officer, Beatrix Zurek, bed occupancy in Munich hospitals has also increased. Two weeks ago, 200 beds in Munich were occupied by Covid patients, whereas there are now around 350.

Though a relationship between the sharp rise in infections with Oktoberfest, which ended on Monday, can’t be proven at the moment, it seems very likely, according to experts. A significant increase in Covid incidences has also been shown at other public festivals – about one and a half weeks after the start. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s famed Oktoberfest opens after two-year pandemic hiatus

After a two-year break due to the pandemic, around 5.7 million visitors came to this year’s Wiesn according to the festival management – around 600,000 fewer than at the last Oktoberfest before the pandemic in 2019, when there were 6.3 million.

Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) took to Twitter to comment on the rise in incidence in Munich during the Oktoberfest. “This would not have been necessary if self-tests had been taken before admission,” he said.

“Compared to the price of a measure of beer, €2-3 (for tests) wouldn’t have mattered,” he said.

Even before the start of the Wiesn, he had spoken out in favour of people taking voluntary self-tests. Lauterbach stressed that now is the time for special measures against Covid.

“The development shows what will happen if the states wait too long with the mask obligation in indoor areas,” he added.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Germany’s new Covid-19 rules from October

In neighbouring counties, where many Oktoberfest visitors came from, the number of Covid cases has also risen noticeably.  Beatrix Zurek said that it is unclear, however, how much of a role Oktoberfest played in these figures, as people are currently much more active socially overall, with concerts and other events also taking place throughout the state.

Christoph Spinner, an infections specialist at Munich’s Klinikum, has urged people not to be alarmed by the rising numbers.

“We had expected rising incidences here. We knew that there could be a doubling, tripling, even quadrupling,” he said.

He said that this is no cause for concern, as many people have been vaccinated or have also recovered from previous Covid infections, so any new infections are therefore usually mild.

The virologist advises people over 60 or with pre-existing conditions to get a second booster vaccination, but otherwise said people shouldn’t be alarmed by the rising incidences.

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