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Germany to require Covid tests for all unvaccinated travellers arriving by ‘plane, car or train’

Anyone entering Germany from abroad will have to take a Covid-19 test unless they are fully vaccinated or have recovered from the disease, according to new rules signed off by Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet Friday.

Germany to require Covid tests for all unvaccinated travellers arriving by 'plane, car or train'
Drivers will be subject to random test checks at the German border from August onwards. Photo: picture alliance / Soeren Stache/dpa | Soeren Stache

“From August 1st, all people entering Germany will be obliged to have proof of a negative test, vaccination or recovery,” Merkel’s spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer said in a statement.

“This rule is there to keep the number of new infections brought into Germany as low as possible,” said Demmer, adding that it would apply to all travellers over the age of 12.

“All unvaccinated people entering Germany will have to be tested in future – regardless of whether they come by plane, car or train,” Spahn said in a statement.

 According to a draft seen by AFP, there will be exceptions for cross-border commuters and those passing through in transit.

Both PCR tests taken within 72 hours of entry and rapid antigen tests taken within a maximum of 48 hours will be accepted, the draft said.

They will apply to travellers “regardless of where they have come from and the means of transport they use,” Finance Minister Olaf Scholz told the Funke media group.

Under current German rules, any unvaccinated person entering the country by plane must get tested, but those entering by road or rail must not unless they are coming from an area deemed high risk.

READ ALSO: REVEALED: Germany’s plans to curb Delta wave with new Covid travel rules

Those entering from so-called virus variant countries, such as Brazil and South Africa, must get tested even if they are vaccinated – a rule set to remain unchanged according to the draft.

Police have said the rules will not be enforced through systematic border controls, but through random checks.

Regular checks ‘can hardly be managed’

Regional leaders in Germany’s border regions, especially Bavaria and Rhineland-Palatinate, had been calling for tighter travel measures in recent days.

But some have questioned how the new rules on testing will function logistically, given the vast amount of entry points to Germany via road and rail. 

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

In an interview with the Funke Media Group, police union chairman Andreas Roßkopf warned that the border police would be unable to cope with the new rules.

“We have over 3,800 kilometers of land border,” he said. “If we are supposed to check them regularly on a random basis, that can hardly be managed.”


Finance Minister Olaf Scholz (SPD) told ARD that “most people think tests are a good thing”. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralild | Soeren Stache

Speaking on ARD Tagesthemen on Friday, Finance Minister and chancellor candidate Olaf Scholz (SPD) defended the move, saying the majority of Germans would comply with the rules regardless if they were likely to be checked or not.

“Lots of people think it’s a good thing that they can get tested to ensure they don’t infect other people,” he said.

“It’s about protecting the health of the people of this nation.”

More than 2,500 infections within a day

Germany has seen low infection numbers over the summer compared to many of its European neighbours, but cases have been creeping up over the past few weeks, largely fuelled by the Delta variant.

The country recorded 2,454 new cases in the past 24 hours on Friday, according to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), and an incidence rate of 17 new cases per 100,000 people over the past seven days — up from a low of 4.6 in early July.

READ ALSO: Germany at ‘start of fourth wave’ – but Covid infections are slowing

With the country’s vaccination campaign running out of steam, the debate has been heating up around possible restrictions for the unvaccinated, though compulsory vaccination for parts of the population has so far been ruled out.

On Thursday, the RKI revealed that thousands of infections had arrived in Germany from abroad during the summer holidays.

More than 3,600 travellers came back to the country with Covid between June 28th and July 25th, the health agency revealed, with the vast majority coming from Turkey, Spain, Croatia, Greece and the Netherlands.

Member comments

  1. Why were the people allowed to leave Germany without Vaccination? I am worried that if another lock down is brought in to protect the unvaccinated while it is available in plenty.

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TRAVEL NEWS

‘Double processing time’: Austria and Germany fear non-EU travellers face border delays

Germany, Austria and another of other countries in Europe's Schengen area admit they fear delays and insufficient time to test the process ahead of new, more rigorous EU border checks that will be introduced next year, a new document reveals.

'Double processing time': Austria and Germany fear non-EU travellers face border delays

Schengen countries are tightening up security at the external borders with the introduction of a new digital system (EES) to record the entry and exit of non-EU citizens in May 2023.

The EES will enable the automatic scanning of passports replacing manual stamping by border guards. It will register the person’s name, type of the travel document, biometric data (fingerprints and facial images) and the date and place of entry and exit. The data will be kept in a centralised database on a rolling three-year basis that is re-set at each entry. 

What the EES is intended to do is increase border security, including the enforcement of the 90-day short-stay limit for tourists and visitors. EU citizens and third-country nationals who reside in a country of the Schengen area will not be subject to such checks.

READ ALSO: Foreigners living in EU not covered by new EES border checks

But given its scale, the entry into operation of the system has been raising concerns on many fronts, including the readiness of the physical and digital infrastructure, and the time required for border checks, which could subsequently cause massive queues at borders.

A document on the state of preparations was distributed last week by the secretariat of the EU Council (the EU institution representing member states) and published by Statewatch, a non-profit organisation that monitors civil liberties.

The paper contains the responses from 21 (out of 26) member states to a questionnaire about potential impacts on passenger flows, the infrastructure put in place and the possibility of a gradual introduction of the new system over a number of months.

This is what certain the countries have responded. Responses from Denmark, Spain and Sweden do not appear in the report but the answers from other countries will be relevant for readers in those countries.

READ ALSO: What the EU’s new EES border check system means for travel

‘Double processing time’

Austria and Germany are the most vocal in warning that passport processing times will increase when the EES will become operational.

“The additional tasks resulting from the EES regulation will lead to a sharp increase in process times”, which are expected to “double compared to the current situation,” Austrian authorities say. “This will also affect the waiting times at border crossing points (in Austria, the six international airports),” the document continues.

“Furthermore, border control will become more complicated since in addition to the distinction between visa-exempt and visa-required persons, we will also have to differentiate between EES-required and EES-exempt TCN [third country nationals], as well as between registered and unregistered TCN in EES,” Austrian officials note.

Based on an analysis of passenger traffic carried out with the aviation industry, German authorities estimate that checking times will “increase significantly”.

France expects to be ready for the introduction of the EES “in terms of passenger routes, training and national systems,” but admits that “fluidity remains a concern” and “discussions are continuing… to make progress on this point”.

Italy is also “adapting the border operational processes… in order to contain the increased process time and ensure both safety and security”.

“Despite many arguments for the introduction of automated border control systems based on the need for efficiency, the document makes clear that the EES will substantially increase border crossing times,” Statewatch argues.

‘Stable service unlikely by May 2023’

The border infrastructure is also being adapted for collecting and recording the data, with several countries planning for automated checks. So what will change in practice?

Austria intends to install self-service kiosks at the airports of Vienna and Salzburg “in the course of 2023”. Later these will be linked to existing e-gates enabling a “fully automated border crossing”. Austrian authorities also explain that airport operators are seeking to provide more space for kiosks and queues, but works will not be completed before the system is operational.

Germany also plans to install self-service kiosks at the airports to “pre-capture” biometric data before border checks. But given the little time for testing the full process, German authorities say “a stable working EES system seems to be unlikely in May 2023.”

France will set up self-service kiosks in airports, where third-country nationals can pre-register their biometric data and personal information before being directed to the booth for verification with the border guard. The same approach will be adopted for visitors arriving by bus, while tablet devices such as iPads will be used for the registration of car passengers at land and sea borders.

Italy is increasing the “equipment of automated gates in all the main  airport” and plans to install, at least in the first EES phase, about 600 self-service kiosks at the airports of Rome Fiumicino, Milan Malpensa, Venice and in those with “significant volumes of extra-Schengen traffic,” such as Bergamo, Naples, Bologna and Turin.

Switzerland, which is not an EU member but is part of the Schengen area, is also installing self-service kiosks to facilitate the collection of data. Norway, instead, will have “automated camera solutions operated by the border guards”, but will consider self-service options only after the EES is in operation.

Gradual introduction?

One of the possibilities still in consideration is the gradual introduction of the new system. The European Commission has proposed a ‘progressive approach’ that would allow the creation of “incomplete” passenger files for 9 months following the EES entry into operation, and continuing passport stamping for 3 months.

According to the responses, Italy is the only country favourable to this option. For Austria and France this “could result in more confusion for border guards and travellers”. French officials also argue that a lack of biometric data will “present a risk for the security of the Schengen area”.

France suggested to mitigate with “flexibility” the EES impacts in the first months of its entry into service. In particular, France calls for the possibility to not create EES files for third-country nationals who entered the Schengen area before the system becomes operational, leaving this task to when they return later.

This would “significantly ease the pressure” on border guards “during the first three months after entry into service,” French authorities said.

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