Germany makes UK 'virus variant area of concern': How does it affect you?
Strict rules on entering Germany from the UK came into force at midnight on Sunday May 23rd. We unpack why this has happened and what it means in practical terms.
So what's changed?
Germany's public health body, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), made Great Britain and Northern Ireland a 'virus variant area of concern' - its highest risk category - on Friday as confirmed Covid cases of the B.1.617.2, or Indian, variant rose by more than 160 percent in a week there.
This reclassification came just seven days after the UK was put back on Germany's list at the lowest risk level, and barely a month after it was taken off the list completely.
When did the ban come into force?
At midnight on Sunday, May 23rd. It's a temporary ban and will be eased when the UK gets the variant outbreaks under control. Of course we don't know when that will happen.
What does this really mean in practical terms?
If you're coming back from the UK now, you'll only be allowed into Germany if you're a German citizen or you have a German residence permit (providing your spouse or partner lives with you, they will also be allowed in, as will any children you have who are under 18).
From Sunday, coaches, trains, ships and airlines will only be able to carry the above people. Others will still be able to transfer flights in Germany but only if they're not leaving the airport.
You'll also have to register online before entering Germany.
What about if you live in Germany but don't yet have a residence permit?
You'll still need to show proof of residence to get in, such as an address registration certificate (Meldebescheinigung), a tenancy agreement, a utility bill in your name, or a certificate of application (Fiktionsbescheinigung).
READ ALSO: How to prove you're a resident in Germany
Does it apply wherever you're coming from in the UK?
Yes, the ban includes England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and all British overseas territories.
Do you have to test and quarantine?
Yes. Arrivals from the UK who are allowed to enter Germany will have to test negative before departure for Germany (the test must be taken no more than 24 hours before entry if it's an antigen test, 72 hours if it's PCR) and immediately enter a 14-day quarantine period on arrival.
Can you quarantine for less time if you have a negative Covid-19 test?
No, the period can’t be shortened even if you test negative. You’ve got to self-isolate for the full two weeks.
What about if you're fully vaccinated?
Sorry, you still have to provide a test and quarantine for the full two-week period even if you are fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
Can German residents and citizens still travel to the UK?
Yes, but the same rules will apply on return to Germany.
Germany is currently on England's 'amber list', which requires anyone travelling to England to take a Covid-19 test, book and pay in advance for two further tests, and complete a passenger locator form.
On arrival, if you're travelling from an amber-list country, you have to self-isolate at home or where you're staying for 10 days and take tests on day two and day eight following your arrival.
You may be able to end your quarantine early if you pay for a private Covid-19 test via the UK government's Test to Release scheme.
What makes the B.1.617.2 variant so worrying?
This snappily named variant of the Covid-19 virus is thought to be particularly contagious and to have played a part in driving the explosion of infections in India over the last few months. It was first detected in India last October, hence its (easier-to-remember) popular name.
- How worried should Germany be about the Covid variant from India?
Indian virus variant 'steadily increasing' in Germany
The UK's 160 percent increase in a week is a lot. How many cases do they have now?
Up to May 19th, there had been 3,424 cases of the variant in the UK, an increase of 2,111 from a week earlier, data from Public Health England showed.
But actual figures are likely to be even higher due to the time lag between when samples are collected and when testing is carried out, the UK's health body said.
"Cases are still predominantly affecting the north-west of England -- particularly Bolton -- and London, but we are seeing clusters of cases across the country," Public Health England said.
And how many cases are there in Germany?
Germany's been keeping an eye on its spread for a while and the RKI's latest report from May 19th showed that the Indian variant accounted for two percent of the German samples tested, unchanged from a week earlier.
The variant B.1.1.7, originally detected in Britain, remains by far the dominant mutation found in Germany.
However, its share has dropped to 87 percent from 92 percent a week earlier while the B.1.351 variant (first detected in South Africa) increased to 3 percent from 1 percent over the same period.
The distribution of the Covid-19 variants in Germany can be seen in the below chart from the RKI.
What has Germany's health ministry said about it?
A spokesperson for Germany’s Health Minister, Jens Spahn, told DPA late on Friday that the change was necessary to prevent the rapid spread of the Indian variant in Germany.
“If we want to continue to suppress infection numbers, we need to make sure that contagious virus variants don’t put this positive development at risk.
“We’re only forearmed against such risks once more people have been vaccinated," the spokesperson said.
Speaking of vaccinations, is Germany making more progress?
Yes, Germany has ramped up its vaccination programme in recent weeks and Spahn tweeted on Saturday that for the first time, more second than first jabs had been given over the last two days.
- How did Germany turbocharge its vaccine rollout and what can it do better?
Why are some parts of Germany still not vaccinating people in their 60s?
A total of 33 million (39.7 percent) of the population had received at least one jab while 11.3 million (13.6 percent) had been fully vaccinated with both doses, he wrote.
And do the vaccinations work against the Indian variant?
A new UK study indicates that yes, they do!
Both Pfizer and AstraZeneca protect almost as well against the Indian variant as the Kent (British) variant after two doses, Public Health England said on Saturday. But they were less effective after only a single dose - 33 percent compared with 50 percent for the Kent variant.
But if we look at overall case levels, there are still more new cases in Germany than in the UK, aren't there?
That's right, total Covid-19 infections are still lower in the UK, but it's this new variant that's the problem. Also, the UK's Office of National Statistics (ONS) said on Friday that cases had risen in England for the first time in five weeks.
The percentage of people testing positive for the virus "shows early signs of a potential increase in the week ending 15 May," the ONS said in its report, adding that "rates remain low".
In Germany, the RKI on Saturday recorded 7,082 new cases of Covid-19 in the past 24 hours and 170 deaths, with a national incidence rate of 67 new infections per 100,000 people over the past seven days.
On Tuesday May 25th, the RKI reported 1,911 new cases within 24 hours and 33 deaths. There was a 7-day incidence of 58.4. But these figures are not very reliable due to Germany having a public holiday in Monday which can skew data.
The below chart from Our World In Data compares the seven-day rolling average of daily new confirmed Covid-19 countries in Germany (black line) and the UK (red line) from February 1st, 2021.
What other countries are virus variant of concern areas?
There are currently only 12 countries in Germany's highest risk category, including the UK, India and Brazil, with the remainder in Asia and Africa.
Infection rates are dropping in many countries now, has this led to Germany changing any other quarantine restrictions or classifications?
Yes. Because of the decline in infections in France, Croatia, Slovenia, Oman, Mongolia and Andorra, the countries have been downgraded to additional risk areas from high-incidence areas previously.
And Slovakia, Finland, Romania, San Marino and Jamaica, as well as some individual regions in Spain and Ireland, have been removed from the list completely.
All the above changes came into force from midnight on Sunday, May 23rd.