TRAVEL: Germany plans to maintain border restrictions after pandemic laws end

The German government is preparing legislation that will allow the Health Ministry to impose travel restrictions on entry from certain countries after the emergency pandemic laws have been lifted.

TRAVEL: Germany plans to maintain border restrictions after pandemic laws end
Arrivals at Berlin Airport in August 2020. Photo: dpa | Annette Riedl

The move means that international travellers from countries with high infection levels, or from areas where a new strain of the virus is spreading, are likely to face entry restrictions into Germany for a further year.

“We intend to decide next week that entry conditions set by decree by Health Minister Jens Spahn can continue to apply even after the disease control law no longer applies,” Social Democratic lawmaker Johannes Fechner told Welt am Sonntag newspaper.

In March of last year, the Bundestag voted to enact a state of emergency based upon the worsening epidemic situation that allowed the government to impose restrictions on personal freedoms such as quarantine and contact restrictions.

Earlier this month, the Bundestag voted to extend the government’s pandemic powers until the end of September.

Under the planned law, which the government hopes to put to debate in the coming weeks, the Health Ministry would be able to impose mandatory testing, quarantine rules, or entry bans on people arriving from countries with a high level of infection or from areas with a ‘variant of concern.’

The Health Ministry would initially receive such powers for a period of 12 months after the end of the pandemic situation.

Fechner said that it was legitimate to hand the Health Minister the power to impose testing and quarantine due to the fact that “the entry requirements are not substantial encroachments on constitutional rights.”

The proposal was criticised by the opposition in the Bundestag.

The liberal Free Democrats said that “we have criticised from the outset the blanket powers granted to the government, which can be issued without the approval of the Bundestag.”

The Greens said such rules were necessary but they “should not be enacted solely by the federal health secretary.”

SEE ALSO: Germany set to open borders to vaccinated non-EU nationals

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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.