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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Flight chaos: How Germany wants to relax red tape to recruit foreign workers

The German government has announced more details on how it plans to help ease flight disruptions due to staff shortages in the aviation industry.

Flight chaos: How Germany wants to relax red tape to recruit foreign workers

What’s happening?

In view of major staff shortages at airports, the German government wants to cut red tape to allow foreign employees to work in Germany.

Temporary workers from abroad should be able to fill in at airports at short notice in sectors such as baggage handling and security checks, said Federal Transport Minister Volker Wissing, Labour Minister Hubertus Heil and Interior Minister Nancy Faeser at a joint press conference in Berlin on Wednesday. 

Faeser said the aim was for the government to issue permits quickly. This should enable skilled workers to be employed in Germany as soon as possible, particularly in ground service providers and private security firms.

“We are making it possible for companies to use support staff from abroad, especially from Turkey,” said Faeser.

The minister reiterated that security remained a top priority for Germany and staff will have to pass background checks.

Heil said that according to the air industry, several thousand workers who are currently not needed at airports in Turkey could plug the gaps in Germany.

He said the workers would be hired by the private companies directly. For their employment in Germany, the government plans to temporarily create the conditions in the form of  residence and work permits.

Heil added that the government would make sure that foreign workers are not exploited. Employees must be paid according to collective agreements and given decent housing, he pledged.

READ ALSO: Will Germany manage to tackle its airport chaos this summer?

Germany has come under fire in the past over the exploitation of foreign workers in the meat industry.

The government blamed the aviation industry for the staff shortages. “Ultimately, it is a private-sector problem that can only be solved by the companies,” said FDP politician Wissing. The companies had cut many jobs during the pandemic, he said.

German government ministers Hubertus Heil, Volker Wissing and Nancy Faeser speak at a Berlin press conference on Wednesday.

German government ministers Hubertus Heil, Volker Wissing and Nancy Faeser speak at a Berlin press conference on Wednesday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

The SPD’s Heil also took the companies to task.

“It is not a permanent solution,” Heil said. “It is not acceptable for companies to create problems and dump that on the state’s doorstep, so to speak.” He added that the industry must solve its staffing problem itself in the medium term.

The companies have a duty – and a vested interest – to be attractive employers, said Heil, adding that it is their customers who are suffering from the current chaos.

Heil criticised the fact that many companies in the aviation industry had laid off staff in the pandemic – or didn’t top up reduced hours pay despite government support. These decisions led to many employees quitting or looking for other, more attractive jobs, he said. 

Meanwhile, Government Commissioner for Tourism, Claudia Müller, accused firms of planning errors. It was “not difficult to foresee” that the time would come when “many people would finally want to get out and enjoy their holidays again”, the Green politician told Bild newspaper.

Open up priority lanes

The SNP’s Faeser urged the aviation industry to also take further measures to reduce the queues at check-in and security gates.

For example, fast or priority lanes could be opened for all travellers, she suggested. These are usually only open to business or first-class travellers.

However, concerns have been raised about how helpful extra workers from abroad will be for the current season. 

Many of the temp workers are likely to be deployed in August at the earliest – and that could be too late for the busiest season at many airports, said Thomas Richter, head of the employers’ association of ground handling service providers in air transport (ABL).

He added: “It doesn’t solve the problem, but it certainly helps.”

The shortage of staff at airlines and especially ground service providers is currently causing huge queues, delays and flight cancellations.

READ ALSO: ‘Arrive three hours early’: Your tips for flying in Germany this summer

Meanwhile, airlines across Europe are cancelling thousands of flights to relieve the overstretched system. Lufthansa alone is cancelling around 3,000 connections at its Frankfurt and Munich hubs over summer.

As The Local reported, Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr, who is one of Germany’s top earners, apologised for the disruption in an open letter to customers. 

According to a study by the Institute of the German Economy, there is currently a shortage of about 7,200 skilled workers at German airports.

The Federal Employers’ Association of Personnel Service Providers (BAP) said the situation at German airports is a taste of what the country can expect due to worsening labour shortages.

“Labour migration is therefore urgently needed. And at this point Germany cannot do without the expertise of temporary employment agencies, some of which operate worldwide – which are also on the ground in countries with different demographic trends – and can recruit the urgently needed staff there for employment in Germany,” BAP Managing Director Florian Swyter told Handelsblatt.