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EXPLAINED: Germany’s new travel rules for the UK, Portugal and India

Germany downgraded the risk status of five countries - the UK, Portugal, India, Nepal and Russia on Wednesday July 7th. Here's how it affects you.

EXPLAINED: Germany's new travel rules for the UK, Portugal and India
People queuing at Düsseldorf airport on July 3rd. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Henning Kaiser

What’s happening?

The UK, Portugal, India, Nepal and Russia were officially removed from Germany’s ‘virus variant of concern’ list on July 7th.

India – where the Covid Delta variant was first discovered – was classified as a virus variant area at the end of April, followed by Nepal and the UK in May. Fellow-EU country Portugal, as well as Russia, were both added to the list on June 29th.

In Germany’s highest Covid risk category, drastic restrictions apply:

– Airlines, bus and train companies are not allowed to transport people from virus-variant areas to Germany unless they are German citizens or have residence in Germany.

– Anyone entering Germany from virus-variant areas must quarantine for 14 days – even if they are fully vaccinated or recovered from Covid.

There are several other virus variant areas of concern, including the South Africa and Brazil. This is the first time that virus variant countries are being downgraded in risk status in Germany since the newest travel rules came into force earlier this year. 

READ MORE: ‘Extremely strict’: What it’s like to travel from the UK to Germany right now

So is Germany getting rid of all the restrictions?

No. These countries will be added to the ‘high incidence’ list, which is for regions with more than 200 Covid cases per 100,000 people.

It does, however, mean that the travel ban will be lifted for these countries, opening Germany up to tourists or for other non-essential travel.

READ ALSO: Germany lifts ban on travellers from UK, Portugal and India

These rules apply to high incidence areas:

– People who are fully vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 coming from high incidence areas do not have to quarantine on arrival. They can also show their proof of vaccination/recovery before boarding a flight to Germany instead of a negative Covid test. 

– People coming from high incidence areas who aren’t vaccinated have to provide a negative Covid test before departure to Germany, and quarantine for 10 days on arrival with the option to end it after five days with a negative Covid test. 

– Note that the German government still warns against travel to high incidence areas, but there are no bans in place. 

“With the entry into force of the new status, the corresponding regulations for entry from a high incidence area also apply,” a Health Ministry spokesman told The Local, meaning the rules come into force with immediate effect from tomorrow. 
 
Those currently in quarantine after travel from one of the five countries in question would therefore be able to shorten it after five days with a negative Covid test. 
 
For anyone who’s fully inoculated or recovered from Covid who’s currently in quarantine from one of the soon to be former virus variant areas, uploading proof of vaccination or recovery to Germany’s Entry Registration Portal will allow you to enjoy the great outdoors once again. Contact your local health office if you have any questions, though. 
 
READ ALSO:

The Our World in Data chart below gives an idea of the daily new Covid cases in the five countries. 

Why is this happening now?

The Health Ministry spokesman told us: “As of July 7th, 2021, Portugal, UK and India, among others, will be classified as high incidence areas.

“The background to the decision is that the Delta virus variant will continue to spread in Germany and will soon dominate.”

The latest official report from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) released last week estimates that the Delta variant accounts for 37 percent of new Covid cases in Germany, up from 17 percent the previous week.

But the real figure is thought to be even higher. RKI experts said last week they believe it already accounts for at least half of new Covid infections in Germany. 

Virologists, including high profile scientist Sandra Ciesek, say the Delta variant is likely already dominant in certain areas, perhaps even across Germany.  

READ ALSO: Delta variant now accounts for ‘at least half’ of all Covid cases in Germany

That means it is rapidly replacing the Alpha variant – which was first detected in the UK – as the dominant strain nationwide.

Experts in Germany also wanted to make sure that vaccines are found to work well against the Delta variant before easing the rules.

The vaccines approved in Germany – Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson and Johnson have been found to provide effective protection against severe courses of a Covid Delta infection. 

Does this open up tourist travel between Germany and these countries?
 
It does make it a lot easier – especially because the entry ban is lifted. But there is still uncertainty. especially concerning the situation for people in Germany travelling to the country in question.
 
In the UK, for example, people arriving from Germany still currently have to quarantine for 10 days, which can be shortened to five days in England.
 
The British government says it will open up travel without quarantine to fully jabbed people but there are no firm plans on exactly when and how this will happen. 
 
The German government also still warns against tourist travel to ‘high incidence areas’ – and, as we mentioned above, unvaccinated people do have to quarantine when coming to Germany from a high incidence area. 
 
An airport worker checking the documents of a traveller from Russia recently. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Fabian Sommer

Aren’t people in Germany worried about the Delta variant pushing up cases?

Yes – the 7-day incidence rate in Germany is less than 5 cases per 100,000 people right now. But experts fear that the number of cases will be pushed up dramatically as we’ve seen in other countries including the UK. 

It means that the race to vaccinate before the Delta variant manages to make its presence even more felt is on. 

Merkel on Monday told her party leadership that the country needed to vaccinate 80 percent of the population to provide enough protection.

In order to combat the Delta variant, however, the Robert Koch Institute wants to target an even higher proportion of the population: 85 percent of people aged 12-59, and 90 percent of people aged 60 and over.

“If this vaccination quota is reached in time, a pronounced fourth wave in the coming autumn and winter seems unlikely,” the public health institute said in a paper released on Monday. 

“The results [of our study] show that under the assumptions made, in particular an increasing dominance of the Delta variant, the vaccination campaign should be continued with high intensity.” 

On Tuesday, medical experts also spoke of the need to vaccinate children in order to achieve herd immunity.

Currently, Germany’s Standing Commission on Vaccination (STIKO) has not issued a general vaccination recommendation for children over the age of 12. The recommendation to get jabbed is only for children with pre-existing conditions.

Vaccinations are possible in children as part of a decision on a case-by-case basis by parents with their children and the doctors. The only vaccine approved for this age group so far is BioNTech/Pfizer. So far, there is no approved vaccine for children under 12.

Anything else we should be thinking about?

Germany will be watching the situation closely in the countries being downgraded in case the situation changes. 
 
With England set to loosen restrictions on July 19th, there will likely be concerns about what might happen – for example, will another variant of concern emerge in future? If that happens, Germany would likely put the UK back on the virus variant list.
 

A Health Ministry spokesman told The Local: “Virus variant areas are risk areas with special characteristics. These can be areas in which a virus variant (mutation) of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus has occurred widespread, which is not also widespread in Germany and which can be assumed to pose a particular risk. The predominant variant in Germany is used as a comparison.

“Such special risks can arise, among other things, from the fact that the virus variant is presumably or verifiably more easily transmitted, because of another property it accelerates the spread of the infection, increases the severity of the disease or against which the immunity achieved by vaccination or survived Covid infection is weakened.”

Do children also have to quarantine when coming from a high incidence or virus variant area?

Although travel will be much easier for fully vaccinated people coming from these countries, it could still be tricky for families. 

That’s because the quarantine regulations for unvaccinated people when entering from certain countries to Germany “apply to everyone, children and adults alike”, said the Health Ministry spokesman. 

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DISCOVERY GERMANY

Nine of the best day trips from Frankfurt with the €9 ticket

If you want to explore the area around Frankfurt this summer, there are plenty of destinations you can reach in under two hours. 

Nine of the best day trips from Frankfurt with the €9 ticket

Germany’s €9 monthly ticket, which launched in June, is also available throughout the whole of July and August. It can be used on all local transport across the country, as well as on regional trains. 

If you’re based in Frankfurt, or heading there on holiday, these destinations can all be reached on regional transport in under two hours, making them an ideal day or weekend getaway. 

READ ALSO: €9 for 90: Everything you need to know about Germany’s cheap travel deal

1. Heidelberg

People sit in front of the Old Bridge at the Neckar river in Heidelberg.

People sit in front of the Old Bridge at the Neckar river in Heidelberg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Uwe Anspach

With its arched Old Bridge and castle on the hill, it’s no wonder Heidelberg is known as one of Germany’s most romantic destinations. The castle, which dates back to the 13th century, was even immortalised by English romantic painter William Turner in a famous painting from the mid-19th century. 

Stroll the winding gothic streets, pay a visit to Germany’s oldest university and visit have a coffee in the historic centre which still bears witness to the medieval layout of the city.

To get to Heidelberg, take the RB68 direct from Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof to Heidelberg Hauptbahnhof in 1 hour and 40 minutes.

READ ALSO: Is Frankfurt a good place for foreigners to live?

2. Hessenpark

Historic half-timbered houses and an old fountain in the market square of Hessenpark, a popular excursion destination in the Taunus region.

Historic half-timbered houses and an old fountain in the market square of Hessenpark, a popular excursion destination in the Taunus region. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Arne Dedert

Take a step back in time in this fascinating open-air museum. With over 100 reconstructed historic buildings across 160 acres, the park gives visitors a close-up look at 400 years of rural life in Hesse. 

Amongst the highlights are the market place which boasts buildings from the whole state of Hesse; a 15th-century church and an austere school room from the turn of the 20th century.

With lively demonstrations of crafts and agriculture, exhibitions, colourful markets, the museum theatre and themed tours, a trip to Hessenpark makes a great day out for all of the family. 

To get there, take the RB15 from Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof to Wehrheim Bahnhof and from there, hop on the 63 bus to Neu-Anspach-Anspach Hessenpark. In total it should take you 1 hour and 15 minutes.

3. Darmstadt

A man walks through the Mathildenhöhe UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A man walks through the Mathildenhöhe UNESCO World Heritage Site. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Frank Rumpenhorst

A day trip to Darmstadt is a must for art and architecture lovers, as Hessen’s fourth-biggest metropolis is home to some particularly interesting cultural sights. 

The former artists’ colony on Mathildenhöhe, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, is one of the most important Art Nouveau sights in Germany and the Wedding Tower and the wacky ‘Waldspirale’ (forest spiral) are well worth a visit.

Also on Mathildenhöhe is the richly decorated Russian Chapel where one of the sisters of Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig married Nicholas II, the last Russian Tsar. 

You need only half an hour to reach Darmstadt, with a direct ride on the S3 from Frankfurt (Main) South station.

READ ALSO: Less traffic, more ticket sales: How the €9 ticket is impacting Germany 

4. Königstein (Taunus)

The Königstein castle ruins are a landmark of the Hochtaunus town and are among the largest castle ruins in Germany.

The Königstein castle ruins are a landmark. They are among the largest castle ruins in Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Andreas Arnold

At an altitude of around 300 metres on the wooded slopes of the Taunus lies the health spa town of Königstein. 

Königstein has been a climatic health resort since 1935, thanks to the purity of the air in the region and is home to various health clinics. 

Daytrippers can soak up the tranquillity in the parks or in the picturesque city centre.

The ruins of Königstein Castle, which date back to the first half of the 12th century, are also well worth a visit. 

There are several routes to get you to Königstein from Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof in under 50 minutes, the fastest being the S5 to Oberursel, followed by the X26 bus to Königstein.

5. Wiesbaden

The Kurpark in Wiesbaden.

The gorgeous Kurpark in Wiesbaden. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Hannes P Albert

​​Nestled in a beautiful valley between the Rhine and the mountains of the Taunus lies Hesse’s capital Wiesbaden. 

There are plenty of things to see on a day trip to the city, including the English-style landscaped garden of the Kurpark, the neo-Gothic Market Church on Schlossplatz and the Hessian State Museum.

Those who fancy trying their luck should pay a visit to the Casino Wiesbaden – one of Germany’s oldest casinos in the former wine salon of the Kurhaus. 

Wiesbaden is also known for its thermal baths and no trip is complete without a hot tub and sauna visit. 

READ ALSO: Weekend Wanderlust – Getting my feet wet in. Wiesbaden

You only need around 50 minutes to reach Wiesbaden from Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof with the S1 or S9 to Wiesbaden central station.

6. Felsenmeer

Hundreds of visitors climb over the rocks of the Felsenmeer , which is a popular attraction in the Odenwald.

Hundreds of visitors climb over the rocks of the Felsenmeer , which is a popular attraction in the Odenwald. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Boris Roessler

Around 60 kilometres south of Frankfurt is a true natural wonder that will delight nature lovers of all ages. 

The Felsenmeer, which literally translates as ‘rock sea’ is a mass of boulders across Felsberg in Oldenwald. The rocks are hundreds of millions of years old, and at the information centre at the foot of the hill, you’ll find all the geological, historical and practical information you need to make the most of a hike through the sea of rocks. 

At the top of the hill, you can reward your exertions with a tasty snack at the kiosk on the summit. 

A trip to the Felsenmeer will take you around an hour and 40 minutes with the RB82 from Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof to Reinheim Bahnhof, followed by the M02 bus to Reichenbach, Felsenmeer.

7. Limburg (Lahn)

A view of the Lahn river and the cathedral in Limburg.

A view of the Lahn river and the cathedral in Limburg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Thomas Frey

A visit to Limburg in the west of Hesse, is a bit like travelling back in time to the Middle Ages. There are dreamy castles, palaces, charming half-timbered houses and ancient legends swirling around the city’s cobbled streets.

A particularly visit-worthy ancient relic is the imposing St. Lubentius Basilica. Perched on an outcrop of limestone rocks on the west bank of the Lahn river, it was the region’s most important church until the 13th century.

You can reach Limburg in just over an hour with the RE20 from Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof.

8. Mainz

A glass of wine stands on a table near the cathedral in Mainz during the Johannisnacht festival in 2019 held in honour of Johannes Gutenberg.

A glass of wine stands on a table near the cathedral in Mainz during the Johannisnacht festival in 2019 held in honour of Johannes Gutenberg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Andreas Arnold

A short train ride away from Frankfurt, you’ll find the city of Mainz on the Rhine River. Known as Germany’s wine capital, there’s plenty to explore in the cobblestone streets of the Altstadt. Mainz has a steep history after being founded by the Romans.

For more than 1,000 years, the city’s skyline has been dominated by the cathedral.

We’d also recommend checking out the the Gutenberg Museum – one of the oldest museums of printing in the world. And of course, make sure to visit a little wine bar – known as a Weinstube.

Get to Mainz by taking the RE4 from Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof.  It takes just over 30 minutes. 

READ ALSO: Nine of the best day trips from Munich with the €9 ticket

9. Walldorfer See

People enjoy a dip in the Badesee Walldorf.

People enjoy a dip in the Badesee Walldorf. Photo: picture alliance / Daniel Reinhardt/dpa

What better way to cool off this summer than to head to a lake? The beautiful Walldorfer See, south of Frankfurt, is known for being a little less busy and calmer than the nearby Langener See, which is the biggest lake in the region. 

On the southern shore at the entrance is the large sandy beach which has a snack bar, toilets, plus a beach volleyball and barbecue area. You can also explore the forest around. 

Keep in mind that the lake is near the airport so you will also see some planes overhead (which might be fun, especially if you have kids with you!). 

Get there on the S7 or RE70 from Frankfurt Haubtbahnof, and then jump off at Walldorf (Hess), and get the the 67 or 68 bus in the direction of Frankfurt airport to Mörfelden-Walldorf-Egerländer Straße. It’s then an 18 minute walk to the Badestelle Walldorfer See.

With reporting by Rachel Loxton

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