German Health Minister calls for ‘massive contact restrictions’ to fight Covid

German Health Minister Jens Spahn has urged the incoming government to take drastic measures after more than 76,000 new Covid infections were reported within a day, saying the situation was "more serious than any other time in this pandemic."

German Health Minister Jens Spahn
Health Minister Jens Spahn addresses reporters at a press conference in Berlin on November 26th, 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bernd von Jutrczenka

“The situation is dramatically serious,” the CDU politician told reporters gathered in Berlin on Friday. “More serious than at any other time in this pandemic.”

Calling the current situation in Germany a ‘national emergency’, Spahn claimed that the incoming government was doing too little, too late to try and stem the tide. “We must stop this wave now,” he warned.

On Friday, the weekly incidence of Covid infections hit yet another new peak of 438 infections per 100,000 people, while the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported a record-breaking 76,000 new infections within a day. In the worst-hit region of Saxony, the 7-day incidence recently topped 1,000 per 100,000 people. 

In the meantime, weekly hospitalisations have been edging up and now stand at 5.97 per 100,000 people nationally. The daily Covid death toll hit 357 on Friday, bringing the total number of deaths since the start of the pandemic to 100,476.  

Criticising politicians who he said had underestimated the scale of the crisis, Spahn warned that the Covid wave would “continue to move west and north” from the regions in the south and east of Germany that have been badly affected so far.

READ ALSO: Merkel gives stark warning as Germany’s Covid death toll tops 100,000

In the short term, he said, there is only one thing that will make a decisive difference: “The number of contacts must be reduced, significantly, otherwise (the measures) are no use at all.”

States should introduce consistent access rules that allow entry only to vaccinated and recovered people who have a negative test to hand (a system known as 2G plus) and should consider the cancellation of festive celebrations and large events, he said. 

Appearing at the press conference alongside Spahn, RKI president Lothar Wieler also urged lawmakers to take decisive action in order to stem the spread of the virus. 

Lothar Wieler
RKI president Lothar Wieler appears at a press conference alongside Jens Spahn on Friday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bernd von Jutrczenka

“I now expect decision-makers to initiate all possible measures to jointly bring the case numbers down,” he said, adding that contact restrictions should once again be brought into play.

“With every contact we don’t have, with every meeting we forgo, with every crowd we avoid, we help slow the spread of the virus,” Wieler said.

He appealed to Germans: “Please get vaccinated or get your booster jabs, and please also comply with all the measures adopted in the federal states.”

South African ‘supervariant’

At the press conference on Friday morning, Spahn also expressed concern about the new ‘supervariant’ (B.1.1.529) that has recently appeared in South Africa.

As The Local reported on Friday, the discovery of the new variant has prompted Germany to ban all incoming travel from the country for people who don’t live in Germany or hold German citizenship.

The aim must be to avoid the entry of this variant as far as possible, the caretaker health minister said. “The arrival of a new variant is the last thing we need now in our current situation,” he added.

Spahn urged all people who have arrived in Germany from South Africa and the surrounding countries in recent days to get tested for the virus with a PCR test to be on the safe side.

RKI chief Wieler said that, as of Friday morning, he was not aware that the virus variant had made it into Europe or Germany.

At the same time, he stressed: “We are very concerned. And I very much hope that stringent work will be done to at least limit the spread of this variant as much as possible through travel restrictions.”

In some provinces of South Africa, there’s been a stark upswing in the number of infections over the past few days, which experts believe could be due to the new variant.

Compared to Delta, which has two mutations, and Beta, which has three, the as-yet unnamed South African variant has ten mutations, meaning it could be more resistant to vaccines, spread faster and place more strain on the human immune system. 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is said to be studying the newly emerged variant to see if it should be classed as variant of ‘interest’ or ‘concern’.

READ ALSO: German to ban travel from South Africa over new Covid variant

Meeting of state leaders

On Thursday, November 25th, Germany’s ‘epidemic situation of national importance’ was allowed to expire after almost a year and a half. The epidemic situation clause had granted sweeping powers to the federal government and states to impose Covid restrictions such as lockdowns and mandatory masks without consulting parliament. 

The incoming government has opted to replace the clause with amendments to the Infection Protection Act, but critics from the opposition CDU/CSU parties say the new regulation does not go far enough. 

In order to get their amended Act through the upper house of parliament, the three ‘traffic light’ parties were forced to strike a deal with Merkel’s conservatives. The deal ensured that the bill would be allowed to pass in the Bundesrat – but only if it was subject to review at the next meeting of state leaders on December 9th.

Jens Spahn
Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) holds up a graph to reporters at Friday’s press conference. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bernd von Jutrczenka

With the Covid situation worsening daily, however, outgoing Health Minister Spahn has been calling on state leaders to bring the meeting forward. The meeting should ideally be held over the next few days, he said.

In light of the rising number of Covid patients on intensive care wards, urgent operations are currently having to be cancelled and postponed, while up to 100 intensive care patients have had to be moved to other hospitals in Germany where medical staff are less overburdened, Spahn revealed.

But these are only temporary solutions and cannot continue indefinitely, he said.

According to Spahn, however, there is one piece of good news: “The vaccination campaign is picking up again.”

In the past three days, there have been more than 300,000 new vaccinations against Covid, while this week, more than two million booster vaccinations have been administered.

“Every vaccination gives hope that this winter will not be as dark as it currently looks,” the Health Minister said.


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€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