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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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‘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 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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