Germany re-classifies UK as Covid ‘risk’ area over Indian variant

Germany's health agency on Friday re-classified Britain as a coronavirus "risk area" over concerns about the spread of the Indian Covid-19 variant there, but travellers will still be able to avoid quarantine under updated rules.

Germany re-classifies UK as Covid 'risk' area over Indian variant
A British Airways plane flying out of Frankfurt. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Frank Rumpenhorst

The move by Germany’s Robert Koch Institute puts Great Britain and Northern Ireland back in the lowest-level risk category, barely a month after they were taken off the list following a decline in new infections thanks to widespread vaccinations.

“The classification is due, despite (a low incidence rate), to the at least a limited occurrence of the B.1.617.2 variant in the United Kingdom,” the RKI said in a statement.

The variant, first detected in hard-hit India, is believed to be more contagious than the original strain and has been classified by the World Health Organization as a “variant of concern”.

READ ALSO: Germany’s new relaxed quarantine and testing rules after travel

The British government on Friday said the variant was spreading “increasing rapidly” in parts of England, with identified cases doubling from 520 last week to 1,313 this week.

Germany this week eased rules for travellers coming from “risk areas”, the lowest of three risk levels, allowing unvaccinated people to avoid the previous 10-day quarantine if they can show a negative test.

Those who are fully vaccinated or can prove they have recovered from Covid by showing a positive PCR test that is at least 28 days old, do not need to quarantine.

Anyone coming from a risk country must still register their trip online with German authorities, and unvaccinated people entering Germany by plane must show a negative test before boarding.

READ ALSO: Indian virus variant ‘steadily increasing’ in Germany

The RKI on Friday also added Nepal to its list of “variant of concern” areas, the highest risk level, where it joins the likes of India, Brazil and South Africa.

Strict requirements are in place for anyone seeking to enter Germany from those countries, and even vaccinated people must quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in a bid to stem the spread of more dangerous coronavirus strains.

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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.