Germany lifts ban on travel from South Africa, offering relief to students and cross-border couples

The Robert Koch Institute's (RKI) latest travel advice released on Friday confirmed that South Africa will no longer be considered an 'area of variant concern', meaning travel from the will once again be possible for non-German citizens.

Germany lifts ban on travel from South Africa, offering relief to students and cross-border couples
A Lufthansa plane in Cape Town in 2020. Credit: dpa/Lufthansa | André Schulz

South Africa was one of nine African states that the RKI removed from its list of countries of variant concern this week, after the Beta variant which was first identified in the rainbow nation has been pushed out by the more infectious Delta strain.

Due to the fact that the Delta variant is also dominant in Germany, it can no longer be considered a variant abroad by the RKI.

South Africa was first classified as an area of variant concern six months ago, meaning that non-German nationals who did not have residency in Germany were banned from travelling from South Africa. Exceptions were only made for professional sports people and those travelling for medical reasons.

The ban caused massive disruption to the career plans and private lives of South Africans who had been offered training or university places in Germany, or those who have loved ones living in the Bundesrepublik.

As The Local reported earlier this month, a South African activist group comprised of workers, students and cross-border couples urged Germany to rethink its ban due to the fact that the Beta variant made up just a small fraction of all new cases in the country. 

The other eight countries in Africa to be removed from the list are Namibia, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

All of these countries are now classified as high incidence areas. Non-vaccinated people arriving from them will have to go into an immediate 10-day quarantine when arriving in Germany, but can end the isolation after five days by testing negative for the coronavirus.

For people who have been inoculated with a vaccine that is approved by the European Medicines Agency, the quarantine rules will no longer apply.

The changes come into effect at midnight on Sunday.

Germany’s health authorities had faced weeks of pressure from industry groups to ease quarantine measures for states in southern Africa, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reports.

The easing of the rules is also likely to offer a significant boost to the South African tourism industry which has seen travel from Europe plummet over the past 18 months.

Only two countries now remain on the RKI’s virus variant list: Brazil and Uruguay.

READ MORE: South Africans urge Germany to lift travel ban

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Could sleeper trains offer Germans cheap, low-carbon travel across Europe?

Several political parties in Germany have said they want to bring back sleeper trains in order to meet carbon emissions targets.

Could sleeper trains offer Germans cheap, low-carbon travel across Europe?
A sleeper train in Austria. Photo: dpa/APA | Georg Hochmuth

The Green party have said that they want to put state subsidies into night trains that will connect Germany with cities as far flung as St Petersburg in the north and Lisbon in the south.

According to the environmentalist party’s plans, 40 night rail lines could connect 200 destinations across the continent including islands like Mallorca, which would be linked in by train and ferry.

The Greens want the EU to buy a fleet of sleeper trains that could travel at speeds of between 200 km/h and 250 km/h.

The CDU have also announced plans to rebuild the country’s sleeper train services.

Deutsche Bahn stopped its last sleeper service in 2016 citing the high costs involved in maintaining its fleet that was not recuperated through ticket sales.

Earlier this year the state owned company said it had “no plans” to purchase new sleeper wagons.