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COVID-19

Germany to ban travel from South Africa over new Covid variant

Germany will ban most travel from South Africa to halt the spread of a new Covid-19 variant with a large number of mutations, acting Health Minister Jens Spahn said on Friday.

Simon's Town in South Africa
The bay of Simon's Town, South Africa. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Christian Selz

The new rules, starting Friday night, will affect travellers from South Africa and “probably neighbouring nations”, Spahn said.

After this date, only German nationals and people with residence rights will be allowed entry to Germany after visiting South Africa.

They must quarantine 14 days upon arrival back in Germany even if vaccinated.

“The last thing we need now is an introduced new variant that causes even more problems,” Spahn said.

The news comes after researchers announced the discovery of a worrying new Covid variant in the country that is believed to have around ten mutations. 

Not much is known about the new variant – which is still called B.1.1.529 as it hasn’t yet been given a Greek title by the World Health Organisation.

However, experts say that the extraordinarily high number of mutations suggest that it is highly infectious and particularly taxing on human immune systems. 

For comparison, the highly contagious Delta variant had two mutations, while Beta had three. 

South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla described the variant as “seriously worrying” and likely behind an “exponential” increase in reported cases in South Africa in previous days.

He said it had been striking how sharply the infection figures had risen in recent days – after months with very few positive tests.

There are also concerns that B.1.1.529 could be resistant to the Covid vaccines that have been developed so far, though scientists haven’t been able to determine this yet. 

“This newly discovered variant worries us, so we are taking proactive and early action here,” said Spahn. 

Tough restrictions

In a sign of the growing alarm around the new ‘supervariant’, the European Union separately called on states to prohibit travel from countries in southern Africa.

The EU’s executive “will propose, in close coordination with member states, to activate the emergency brake to stop air travel from the southern African region due to the variant of concern B.1.1.529,” EU chief Ursula Von der Leyen tweeted Friday.

When South Africa is bumped onto the ‘virus list’ this weekend, it will mark the second travel ban Germany has imposed on the country within a year.

South Africa was initially placed on the Robert Koch Institute’s virus variant list on January 30th over the discovery of the Beta variant, effectively banning all travel to and from the country for non-German citizens.

The move prompted a heartfelt campaign by a South African group comprised of workers, students and cross-border couples, who argued that their lives had come to a standstill during the course of the six-month block on travel.

It was kept in place for months despite the growing prevalence of Delta and diminishing traces of Beta in the country, but was eventually lifted in August. 

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

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TRAIN TRAVEL

Germany’s Deutsche Bahn to raise ticket prices by almost five percent

The cost of long-distance train travel in Germany is to go up significantly from December.

Germany's Deutsche Bahn to raise ticket prices by almost five percent

The price of tickets for long distance rail services run by Deutsche Bahn (DB) in Germany are to go up by an average of 4.9 percent this winter, it has emerged. 

The company said the hikes, which will come into force from December 11th, are in response to high inflation.

Some tickets will see an even higher increase. The price of Flex tickets, which aren’t tied to a specific train and can be cancelled, will increase by an average of 6.9 percent.

The cost of BahnCards 25, 50 and 100, which frequent travellers can use for discounted rates, are also going up by around 4.9 percent.

Super Saver and Saver fares – Sparpreise – are, however, staying the same. They start at €17.90 (or €12.90 for people who are 27 or younger), although these tickets are not offered on every train and come with some restrictions.

Seat reservations will also remain at the same level. It costs €4.50 for second-class seat reservations.

The changes will apply to DB’s long-distance trains – Intercity and Intercity Express (IC and ICE).

READ ALSO: German rail operator plans huge modernisation 

The company said the hikes were happening because of inflation. Like many other companies, Deutsche Bahn was “forced to react to the massive inflation by adjusting its prices,” but the firm said this was still well below the current inflation rate of eight percent.

DB added that the German Tariff Association said at the beginning of September that regional services would see a price increase of four percent on average.

The new long-distance timetable – which will apply from December 11th – can be booked in advance from October 12th, according to Deutsche Bahn.

Up to and including December 10th, the new offers can still be booked at the old price.

Despite major problems with the punctuality of its trains, Deutsche Bahn has recently been able to significantly increase its passenger numbers back to the level it reached before the Covid crisis. However, as one of the biggest consumers of electricity in Germany, it has also been hit hard by rising energy costs. The additional costs for the coming year have been put at two billion euros, said the firm. 

It comes as federal and state leaders are widely expected to agree to a new nationwide successor to the €9 euro ticket, which would cover all regional public transport – including DB’s regional trains – around the country.

According to Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP), the government is aiming to introduce the new travel offer by January 1st, 2023. 

READ ALSO: Germany sets out plans for €49 public transport ticket in October

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