Germany could ease travel rules for UK and Portugal soon, says Health Minister

The German government will likely downgrade the risk status of countries such as UK and Portugal when the share of the Delta variant increases in Germany, Health Minister Jens Spahn said Thursday.

Germany could ease travel rules for UK and Portugal soon, says Health Minister
Passengers in Berlin Brandenburg airport Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Jens Kalaene

During a press conference that focused on Germany’s travel rules, Spahn said that the government could downgrade countries like the UK and Portugal where the Delta variant is dominant from ‘virus variant areas’ to ‘high incidence’ areas – when the share of the Delta variant reaches a comparable level in Germany.

That could result in the entry ban being lifted – and people who are fully vaccinated against Covid would not longer have to quarantine. 

However, it’s not clear if the entry ban on non-residents travelling to Germany would be eased in this case. 

Germany expects the Delta variant to account for up to 70 to 80 percent of infections in July, said Spahn. It is already the dominant variant in some countries including the UK which has seen a massive hike in cases in the the last weeks.

Spahn emphasised that Delta would “soon be the dominant variant in Germany too”.

The Heath Minister, who belongs to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU, emphasised the importance of people being fully vaccinated.

READ ALSO: Germany holds back on imposing tougher travel rules to tackle Delta variant

New studies show that people who are fully rather than partially jabbed are well protected against the Delta variant, which could mean that the rules could be reassessed soon, Spahn said.

Given the increasing spread of Delta and research showing that full vaccination protects well against it, “we will look at the situation in the next few days”, Spahn said.

“If both of these things are confirmed, we will then be able to treat Portugal and the United Kingdom as high-incidence areas”, rather than variant countries, he said.

The focus during the news conference from journalists asking questions was on Portugal and the UK but it could apply to other ‘virus variant’ countries where the Delta variant has been spreading such as India and Russia.

However, Spahn did say lots of factors are taken into account when looking at the risk classification of countries, including the vaccination rate and other restrictions. 

He also said travel restrictions would only be downgraded for ‘virus variant’ countries where the variant is also widespread in Germany, such as the developing situation with the Delta strain. 

Experts from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) estimate that half of new Covid cases in Germany are currently caused by the Delta variant. Yet the overall incidence remains very low – on Thursday there were around 5 cases per 100,000 people within seven days. 

READ ALSO: Delta variant causing ‘at least half’ of new Covid infections in Germany

Spahn said it was extremely important to keep up the pace of vaccination. So far, two-thirds of all adults in Germany have received at least one jab. About 55 percent have now received their first dose, while 37.3 percent have been double jabbed. 

On Wednesday Germany surpassed the US on the proportion of the population who’ve received first jabs.

What are the travel rules?

It came as Germany lifted its blanket travel warning against tourist travel on July 1st.

But there are still strict rules in place for so-called ‘virus variant’ countries. Anyone who is allowed to travel from ‘virus variant areas’ – such as German citizens and residents – has to complete a 14-day quarantine when they return to Germany even if they are fully vaccinated. 

In ‘high incidence areas’ (areas which have more than 200 cases per 100,000 residents), vaccinated people and those who’ve recovered from Covid-19 do not have to quarantine.

People who have not been vaccinated have to self-isolate for 10 days, with an option to end it after five days with a negative test result.

Anyone entering Germany by plane has to present proof of a negative Covid-19 test, proof of vaccination or evidence of recovery from Covid. But strict testing rules remain for all travellers coming from ‘virus variant’ regions.  

Chancellor Angela Merkel is set to discuss travel restrictions when she meets UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday.

Merkel has been pushing for nationwide EU restrictions on people arriving from Britain due to the Delta spread there. 

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When will Germany’s €49 ticket start?

Germany announced a €49 monthly ticket for local and regional public transport earlier this month, but the hoped-for launch date of January 2023 looks increasingly unlikely.

When will Germany's €49 ticket start?

Following the popularity of the €9 train ticket over the summer, the German federal and state governments finally agreed on a successor offer at the beginning of November.

The travel card – dubbed the “Deutschlandticket” – will cost €49 and enable people to travel on regional trains, trams and buses up and down the country.

There had been hopes that the discount travel offer would start up in January 2023, but that now seems very unlikely.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Germany’s €49 ticket

Martin Burkert, Head of the German Rail and Transport Union (EVG) now expects the €49 ticket to be introduced in the spring.

“From our point of view, it seems realistic to introduce the Deutschlandticket on April 1st, because some implementation issues are still unresolved”, Burkert told the Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland. The Association of German Transport Companies, on the other hand, considers the beginning of March to be a realistic start date.

The only thing that seems clear regarding the start date is that it will be launched at some point in 2023.

Why the delay?

Financing for the ticket is continuing to cause disagreements between the federal and state governments and, from the point of view of the transport companies, financing issues are also still open.

Burkert from EVG said that the federal government should be prepared to provide more than €1.5 billion for the ticket if necessary.

“Six months after the launch of the Deutschlandticket at the latest, the federal government must evaluate the costs incurred to date with the states and, if necessary, provide additional funding,” he said. 

READ ALSO: OPINION: Why Germany’s €49 travel ticket is far better than the previous €9 ticket

Meanwhile, Deutsche Bahn has warned that the network is not prepared to cope with extra demand. 

Berthold Huber, the member of the Deutsche Bahn Board of Management responsible for infrastructure, told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper that a big part of the problem is the network is “structurally outdated” and its “susceptibility to faults is increasing.” 

Accordingly, Huber said that there is currently “no room for additional trains in regional traffic around the major hub stations” and, while adding more seats on trains could be a short terms solution, “here, too, you run up against limits,” Huber said.