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COVID-19

Holidaymakers travelling by car and train stopped for Covid test checks at German borders

Everyone entering Germany has to have proof of full vaccination, recovery from Covid or a negative test. Here's what the situation looks like at the borders.

Holidaymakers travelling by car and train stopped for Covid test checks at German borders
Police conducting spot checks at Neustrelitz, Meckelnburg-Western Pomerania on Sunday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Stefan Sauer

Germany’s new rules requiring every unvaccinated person returning from abroad to have proof of a recent negative coronavirus test came into force this weekend.

And although many travellers were prepared, some people weren’t able to show proof of being fully vaccinated, recovery from Covid-19 within the last six months or a negative test.

During spot checks at the A3 near Passau, Bavaria, on Sunday, for instance, 110 people were unable to present proof. 

At the A93 border checkpoint at Kiefersfelden, also Bavaria, those who were stopped complied with the new rules.

“Where are you coming from and where are you going?” the federal police asked people in their cars on Sunday during spot checks.

A lot of cars were packed with families – but there were also people sitting alone in their vehicles.

Some were travelling through Germany – for example returning from a holiday in Italy to the Netherlands. Others were crossing the border while trying to get from from Innsbruck to Salzburg. 

These travellers are allowed to cross the border without being checked – the new testing obligation does not apply to people travelling through Germany without stopping. Neither does it apply to commuters, or for short stays of less than 24 hours.

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The rule applies to everyone over the age of 12 who is not fully vaccinated against the virus, or who has not recovered in the past six months.

Previously, everyone travelling by air was expected to provide a negative test result or proof of vaccination/recovery before arriving in Germany. The new regulation extends the rule to all rail, sea and road entries. 

People coming back to Germany from their vacation have to comply with the rules.

“Have you been vaccinated, tested or recovered?” police asked road users. 

“We have a pandemic, and if they want to see proof, I have no problem with that,” one motorcyclist told Bavarian broadcaster BR24.

“The check is quick, we had ourselves tested in Austria,” said a man who crossed the border in a motor home. “Fortunately, we knew about it beforehand.”

Passengers at Munich airport. Air travellers are also required to show proof of a test, vaccination or recovery before arriving in Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sven Hoppe

Random checks

Some people questioned why the mandatory testing rule for everyone entering the country by all modes of transport is only coming into place now – when the travel season is in full swing. 

Other people were surprised that only the unvaccinated have to submit a negative test, when experts say vaccinated people can also transmit the virus.

One woman felt irritated because she had to pay €80 to get tested for Covid-19 in Croatia and was not even checked by police on arrival. In Germany, rapid Covid testing is free. 

The Interior Minister said that border police would be conducting spot checks at land borders in order to minimise traffic jams at a time when many Germans are returning from summer vacations abroad.

Several violations in Passau at Austrian border

At the Rottal-Ost Autobahn, 220 travellers were checked and 110 unvaccinated people were found not to have proof of a negative test.

Among them were three full coaches, where there were several violations of the test obligation.

People entering Germany who have not been tested are requested to travel immediately to a coronavirus test centre, and can be ordered to pay a fine. 

Germany’s 16 states set the fines for violations. In Bavaria, for instance, people who flout the Covid entry regulations can face around €500 to €2,000, reported media outlet NordBayern.

Bavarian interior minister Joachim Herrmann urged people on Sunday to take the new entry rules seriously. He said people can face a fine of up to €25,000 in severe cases.

Checks on trains

Passengers travelling by train into Germany are also being checked randomly, usually by conductors rather than federal police.

On Sunday, Spiegel reported that a woman on a train from Krakow in Poland to Berlin, who was unvaccinated and didn’t have a negative Covid test, was asked for proof by the conductor. 

She was asked to take a Covid test as soon as she arrived in Berlin – but this was not followed up.

Critics say the new rules have come in too late and are difficult to enforce.

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

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COVID-19 RULES

KEY POINTS: German Health Ministry lays out autumn Covid plan

The German Health Ministry has put together a seven-point-plan to combat Covid in autumn. Here's a look at the proposals which are being discussed this week.

KEY POINTS: German Health Ministry lays out autumn Covid plan

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach, of the Social Democrats, is presenting Germany’s proposed Covid-19 autumn strategy this week to the states. In seven points, the plan outlines the federal government’s course of action in the expected autumn wave.

Three scenarios for autumn

According to the strategy paper, the government’s Covid Council of Experts sees three possible scenarios for the development of the pandemic in autumn.

– In the most favourable scenario, a less severe Covid variant than the currently widespread Omicron variant would become dominant in autumn. In this case, the Health Ministry says that stronger infection control measures would then no longer be necessary, or would only be needed to protect risk groups. 

– However, a moderately severe scenario is considered more likely, with a disease burden comparable to the current Omicron variants. In this outcome, infections and sick leave from work are expected to increase throughout the colder season. “Despite the moderate Covid-19 burden in critical care, work absences could again require area-wide transmission protection measures (masks and indoor distancing), as well as contact reduction measures on a regional basis,” the ministry’s strategy paper says.

READ ALSO: The Covid rules in place across German states

– In the worst-case scenario, “a new virus variant with a combination of increased immunity escape or transmissibility, and increased disease severity” would spread and become the dominant strain. In this case, the healthcare system would be severely burdened and protective measures such as mandatory masks and distance requirements could only be scaled back in spring 2023 at the earliest, the ministry says. 

But even in the moderately severe scenario, the Health Ministry estimates that without further measures Germany could see about 1,500 Covid deaths per week.

What’s the seven-point plan for Germany to get through autumn?

1. New vaccination campaign

The Health Ministry wants to purchase vaccines that are adapted to the Omicron variant from the manufacturers Moderna and BioNTech/Pfizer, depending on the availability.

From September onwards, a fresh vaccination campaign is to be launched to promote the fourth vaccination (or second booster shot). The aim is to “close the vaccination gap and promote the fourth vaccination; especially in the older population group”.

A man receives his second booster vaccination against Covid in Springe. Lower Saxony in February.

A man receives his second booster vaccination against Covid in Springe. Lower Saxony in February. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Ole Spata

2. Testing strategy

People in Germany should have access to a PCR test after a positive rapid test. For symptomatic patients, a PCR test should also be possible in doctors’ surgeries without a prior rapid test, as is currently the case.

However, under the plans, there would no longer be free rapid tests – Bürgertests – for everyone. Instead, they would be restricted. Lauterbach wants to continue to offer free tests to people with Covid symptoms and for certain groups.

READ ALSO: German Health Minister wants to scrap free Covid tests for all

The proposals state that there should be preventive rapid tests in nursing homes and hospitals, and for children as well as for people coming into contact with lots of people, for instance before a large event. 

Furthermore, people who can’t get vaccinated for medical reasons should also be entitled to free rapid tests. 

Lauterbach also wants to continue to make free rapid tests available to refugees fleeing war in Ukraine, as well as to people in Covid hotspots.

An easily accessible testing infrastructure, including in pharmacies, should be kept in place, says the paper. 

However, the federal government wants to pay the test centres less money per rapid antigen test and PCR test in future. “The total costs are to be reduced by about half,” the ministry writes in its strategy paper.

The amendment of the test regulation is to be completed by the end of June, the Health Ministry states. Free rapid tests are available in Germany until the end of this month.

A sign for a Covid test centre in Hamburg.

A sign for a Covid test centre in Hamburg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christian Charisius

3. Optimisation of treatment

The German government’s Health Ministry wants to promote more treatment options for Covid.

“Since mortality can be significantly reduced by adequate and timely treatment, a treatment strategy (including for oral antiviral pill Paxlovid) is essential,” the ministry said, adding that effective drugs are not being used enough at the moment. The expert council has been asked to develop an appropriate treatment concept.

4. Protection of vulnerable groups

The Health Ministry considers a comprehensive care and safety concept for nursing facilities and care services essential in preparation for the expected autumn wave.

Lauterbach wants to see that all care facilities establish a ‘hygiene officer’, as is already the case in hospitals. For early treatment with medication, the appointment of a specialised care coordinator should also be put in place.

The aim is to keep nursing homes open for visits from members of the public. However, visiting and hygiene rules need to be established, says the paper. In this context, “the three effective protective measures ‘vaccination, testing, masks’ for staff, residents and visitors are to be enforced”.

5. Daily data

Lauterbach wants to order all hospitals to report the data that is necessary for pandemic management via the German Electronic Reporting and Information System for Infection Prevention (DEMIS) on a daily basis.

The reports should include intensive care capacity, the number of Covid patients in regular wards and intensive care units, and the numbers of free beds. According to Lauterbach’s plans, health care facilities that don’t comply with these reports would be sanctioned.

6. Protection plan for children and youths

The aim is to keep schools and nurseries open throughout autumn and winter. 

“Daycare centres and schools must remain open,” the strategy paper states. But in order to protect children and young people, a nationwide recommendation is to be developed by health and education ministers. Meanwhile, youngsters should also be a particular focus in the vaccination campaign.

An FFP2 mask hangs on a coat hanger at a school in Stuttgart.

An FFP2 mask hangs on a coat hanger at a school in Stuttgart. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Marijan Murat

7. Changes to the Infection Protection Act

Germany’s Covid infection protection laws allow for rules such as mandatory masks. However, the law expires on September 23rd, and states have been pushing for the government to extend and strengthen it in case they need to put in place tougher measures, like contact restrictions.

READ ALSO: German states seek powers to enforce tougher Covid rules in autumn

According to the paper, the law is to be “further developed in good time before 23rd September 2022”. The Health Ministry said the findings of the expert council’s statement would be taken into account, as well as those of the expert commission evaluating the previous Covid protection measures, by the end of June.

However, a decision on exactly which measures the Infection Protection Act will contain after this date is to be made only after the evaluation reports have been presented on June 30th.

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