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COVID-19

Germany to order mandatory Covid tests for all returning unvaccinated travellers ‘from August’

Anyone entering Germany who has not been fully vaccinated will have to provide a negative Covid test under new rules that could be in place as early as August 1st, according to Bavaria's state premier.

Germany to order mandatory Covid tests for all returning unvaccinated travellers 'from August'
People boarding a train in Munich. In future, all unvaccinated travellers coming into Germany could be required to show a negative Covid test. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sven Hoppe

The Health Ministry put forward a plan that requires all travellers to submit a recent negative Covid-19 test – no matter where they are arriving from and which method of transport they use. 

“The federal government has assured us today that it will now try everything (to introduce) by August 1st a uniform testing obligation not only for air travel but also, for example, for everyone that comes by car or train,” Markus Söder, Bavarian leader, told broadcaster ARD on Tuesday. 

Söder, of the CSU, said the original proposed date for the new rules was September 11th. But he said that would have been “a joke”, adding: “by then the holidays are over, even in countries with late vacations”.

Germany’s states put pressure on the government to bring forward the new uniform entry regulations, Söder said, adding that he was told that a legal basis would be created so that the new regulations would be implemented by August 1st.

“The rule is, after all, relatively simple: everyone needs a test who arrives back, so to speak, whether they come by car, train or plane,” he said. 

What are the current rules?

At the moment, people travelling into Germany by plane have to show a recent negative test before departure. Those who can present proof of being fully vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 within the last six months do not have to take a test. 

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The test obligation upon arrival also applies to people arriving from high-risk areas, regardless of the method of transport. But if someone is driving or taking a train from a risk free area, they do not have to show a test.

People coming from a basic risk area – such as France – are required to show a test within 48 hours of arriving in Germany.

The move would hit families hard as many children are unvaccinated – and testing rules apply to everyone over the age of 6 in Germany. Many people have chosen to go on holiday by car this year to avoid air travel. 

READ ALSO: Why Germans are choosing to go on holiday by car this year

As The Local reported on Tuesday, Health Minister Jens Spahn has been pushing to tighten the testing rules. 

“The Federal Ministry of Health is in favour of extending the obligation to test on entry as quickly as possible,” a spokeswoman for Spahn said in response to a question from the media later on Tuesday, reported Spiegel. 

Söder did not comment on how vaccinated and recovered people would be treated in the future.

But German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer (CSU) told Bild newspaper that those who had been fully vaccinated or recovered would not have to prove a negative test result. 

READ ALSO: How Germany’s latest rules on foreign travel affect you

Seehofer and Söder said there would be spot checks on traffic rather than stationary border controls which caused large traffic jams earlier in the pandemic when Germany shut its borders. 

Criticism from tourism bosses

SPD health expert Karl Lauterbach spoke out in favour of tightening the rules.

“A general obligation to test on entry to Germany for everyone who is neither fully vaccinated nor recovered makes a lot of sense from a medical point of view,” he told Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland.

“When travelling on vacation, there is basically a higher risk of becoming infected with the coronavirus because of the greater number of contacts – first of all, regardless of the travel destination and the means of transport used.”

But the German government’s tourism commissioner, Thomas Bareiß (CDU), opposes stricter entry regulations.

“The provisions of the entry regulations have served us well even in times of higher incidence – that’s what they’re designed for,” he said. 

He questioned why there are moves to tighten rules when vaccination rates are rising, arguing that the focus should instead be on effectively monitoring compliance with the current rules.

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TRAVEL NEWS

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

Germany's €9 monthly transport ticket is coming. Here's everything you should know about the deal that will allow you to to travel the country for next to nothing this summer.

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

What’s all this about cheap transport?

Germany is about to launch a mega cheap transport ticket – and a lot of people are getting very excited about it.

The “€9 for 90” ticket is a monthly travel card that people can buy for just €9 per month over a three-month period. It’s a fraction of the price of a normal monthly travel card and – even more incredibly – can be used anywhere in the country on local and regional transport. 

The deal was initially announced back in April as part of an energy relief package put together by the government. And despite some anger from state leaders over funding for the scheme, the ticket cleared its final hurdle in the Bundesrat on Friday.

READ ALSO: German states threaten to block the €9 ticket in the Bundesrat

So far, the €9 ticket has received a lot of publicity and attention. That’s probably because it’s one of the more fun measures to combat the energy crisis – one that doesn’t involve complicated claims and write-offs in your tax return.

Instead, the government is hoping that the new ticket will cut monthly transport costs for households and encourage people to use more eco-friendly transport options. With fuel prices spiralling, it’s a great time to leave the car at home and travel around for next to nothing, while doing your bit for the environment. 

Sounds great. Can everyone buy it?

Yes! It doesn’t matter whether you’re a tourist on a weekend trip from Austria, a part-time Germany resident or Chancellor Olaf Scholz himself: everyone will be able to purchase the €9 ticket. (We imagine Olaf may already have his own transport, though.) 

It will, however, have your name on it, so it can’t be pooled between friends (as tempting as an even cheaper travel deal would be). 

READ ALSO: What tourists in Germany need to know about the €9 public transport ticket

Busy train in Stuttgart

People board a busy train in Stuttgart. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Marijan Murat

When will it be available?

It’s currently available in a handful of cities, including Hamburg, Stuttgart and Freiburg – but everyone else will be able to purchase it from May 23rd onwards. 

The deal itself will be a summer travel offer. That means the first monthly ticket will be valid from June 1st and the last monthly ticket will expire on August 31st. Each of the tickets will be valid for the full calendar month so you won’t be able to mix and match with existing tickets.

For example, if you’ve already bought a ticket that’s expiring in mid-June, you wouldn’t then be able to buy a €9 ticket running from the middle of June to the middle of August.

Instead, you would require two €9 tickets  for June and July – though you can get a refund for the part of the prior ticket you didn’t end up using.

Where can I get hold of it?

The ticket will be available via Deutsche Bahn’s DB Navigator app, on the DB website, at in-station terminals and at ticket desks and offices.

Regional transport operators are likely to have their own ticket purchasing options as well – most likely online, but in some cases also at ticket machines and in-station offices. 

READ ALSO: How to get a hold of the €9 ticket in Berlin

A regional train near Hornberg, in the Black Forest.

A regional train near Hornberg, in the Black Forest. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Philipp von Ditfurth

What types of public transport can I use it on?

The ticket is valid throughout Germany, but only on regional and local transport.

That means you can use it on all local trains like the U-Bahn and S-Bahn, as well as on trams and buses. You can also travel on the Regionalverkehr (regional trains) across Germany. 

You can’t use the ticket for private services like Flixbus and Flixtrain or on other long-distance rail services like IC, EC and ICE trains. If you’re travelling around your state and aren’t sure if the ticket will be valid, check if the train you’re taking has an ‘RE’ in the name. That’s the shorthand for regional trains.

It probably goes without saying, but taxi services won’t be included in the price. And, yes, you will still need to pay for those e-scooters as well. 

Can I use it to travel first class?

If you’re hoping for a month of budget transport but also want to be treated like royalty whilst on board, we may have to disappoint you. The €9 ticket can only be used in second-class carriages.

This is largely because there’s likely to be huge demand for the budget offer – so there could be scuffles for first-class seats with that extra bit of legroom. 

READ ALSO: How to explore Germany by train with the €9 ticket

I’ve already got an Abo. What can I do?

This has been a big concern for the folk who have already opted to pay full price for their public transport. (What fools they were…) 

Luckily, this group of keen transport users won’t miss out either. According to the DB website, people who’ve already shelled out on a monthly or annual ticket will be contacted by their local transport provider and informed about how they can get a refund.

If you’ve got a standing order set up, the transport operator will likely just debit the €9 from your account instead of the usual amount. Otherwise, you may get sent a refund via direct debit. 

Your subscription ticket will be valid for local public transport throughout Germany during the three month offer period – not just in your area.

Will students also benefit from the ticket?

Absolutely – though this is one area where things may be a little less well-organised. If you’re a student with a semester ticket, you will be entitled to a refund of the extra amount you paid, which will likely be handled by your university. 

One thing that seems a little unclear is whether the semester ticket will suddenly be valid outside of your local region, just like the €9 ticket is. We assume it will, but we’ll try to clarify this with DB and other service providers in the coming weeks. 

Can I take my bike on board?

Unfortunately, bikes aren’t included in the offer – and this seems like a deliberate choice. 

DB is recommending that people leave their bikes at home during the three months that the €9 ticket is on offer. This is because trains are likely to be extremely busy and they can’t guarantee that they’ll have room for everyone, let alone a hundred or so bikes. Instead, you can usually hire a bike at your destination.

However, if you’ve already got a subscription that allows you to take your bike with you (i.e. a student semester ticket or another type of Abo), you’ll still be able to do so. 

What about my dog? 

You will unfortunately not be able to purchase a €9 ticket in the name of Rover T. Dog (well, you could try, but it probably won’t work). However, the usual rules will apply to travelling with a furry friend. 

In some places, you may need to buy an extra dog ticket for Rover, while in others, he’ll be able to accompany you free-of-charge. 

READ ALSO: Who benefits from Germany’s €9 public transport ticket offer?

A woman carries her dog through a Berlin train station

A woman carries her onesie-clad dog in a Berlin train station. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Annette Riedl

Do children need to pay for a ticket? 

Children under six can travel for free on public transport, while children over the age of six will need their own €9 ticket. 

What about seat reservations? 

Transport operators are trying to keep things as flexible as possible to cope with demand over summer, so you unfortunately won’t be able to use the ticket to reserve a seat in advance.

Won’t public transport be rammed? 

At the moment, nobody really knows. According to the Association of German Transport Companies (VDV), there could be as many as 30 million public transport users per month over summer – but this is only a rough estimate.

READ ALSO: How many people will use the €9 ticket?

One way around this is to try and travel on weekdays and off-peak services where possible and (as mentioned) to hire bikes rather than bringing them in the train.

It could also be helpful to familiarise yourself with different transport connections and routes in your area. 

The other thing that could help ease the crush on public transport is the fact that the government is also planning to cut taxes on fuel in tandem with the €9 ticket. That means that, for three months over summer, drivers will be able to get cheaper petrol and diesel – so some may indeed decide to take the car after all.

The ticket ends at the end of August. What happens next? 

Once again, it’s hard to say. Critics of the €9 ticket say that the scheme will leave gaping holes in transport budgets and could ultimately lead to ticket prices going up in autumn.

On the other hand, proponents of the offer believe that it could have the effect of luring people back to public transport after the Covid crisis. That would mean that more people would be buying subscriptions after summer and using local buses and trains, which can only be a good thing for transport budgets in the long-run. 

READ ALSO: ‘Fantastic’: Your verdict on Germany’s €9 transport ticket

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