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Germany’s state health ministers call for tougher travel rules from UK to stem Omicron spread

Germany's regions on Saturday called on the central government to adopt tighter border controls and suspend arrivals from the UK, which has a high incidence of Omicron cases.

A person with a suitcase walks in the BER Willy Brandt airport in Brandenburg.
Germany wants to stop Omicron spreading as rapidly as it has in the UK. As of December 16th, the new variant made up 0.6 percent of cases in Germany. STEFANIE LOOS / AFP

“I’m looking at the developments in the UK with great concern,” said Klaus Holetschek, the Bavarian health minister who chaired the health ministers’ conference, according to German media.

“The Omicron virus variant is spreading rapidly there. We therefore need to act consistently and quickly,” he added.

The UK reported over 90,000 new cases of coronavirus on Saturday, setting a record for the third day in a row. This figure included 10,059 new confirmed cases of the Omicron Covid-19 variant.

In Germany, meanwhile, 50,968 new cases were reported on Friday, according to the country’s Robert Koch Institute. As of December 16th, Omicron made up 0.6 percent of cases in Germany.

Germany’s new federal health minister Karl Lauterbach welcomed the regions’ initiative, saying: “The longer we can postpone the time when Omicron takes hold of us the better.”

Holetschek agreed that the spread of the new variant should be delayed as much as possible. “There are still very many patients infected with the Delta variant in intensive care. We must therefore prevent importing the Omicron virus variant in from the countries Germany has designated as areas of variants of concern as best we can,” the CSU politician said.

The resolution, which German media had sight of, included temporarily categorising the UK as an area of variant of concern and requiring negative PCR tests before departure for anyone over the age of six.

These would be necessary for anyone who had spent time in a country designated as an area of variant of concern in the previous ten days and would have to be taken within 48 hours of departure. Antigen tests would no longer be accepted.

The rules should also apply to transfers in German airports.

There are currently no European countries on the Robert Koch Institute’s list of areas of variants of concern. South Africa, where Omicron was first identified, is on the list, as well as countries such as Namibia and Botswana.

Stricter travel and quarantine rules apply to countries on this list, including a compulsory two-week quarantine for both the vaccinated and unvaccinated that can’t be exited early.

The UK is currently considered a high-risk area and, as such, travellers coming from the UK who are not fully vaccinated must quarantine for only ten days and can end their isolation period after five days with a negative test. 

Germany has now designated all of its European neighbours except Luxembourg as high-risk areas after adding France and Denmark to the list on Friday

Member comments

  1. Germany’s genetic sequencing of each PCR test is far lower than that in the UK. There are way more Omicron cases in Germany than official statistics report. Any restrictions on the UK now is too late anyway and would achieve nothing. The Omicron wave is coming and can’t be stopped or slowed down.

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COVID-19 RULES

How useful are Germany’s Covid restrictions?

Protective measures such as wearing a mask correctly and lockdowns can be effective in the fight against Covid, an expert commission in Germany has found. But many questions remain unanswered.

How useful are Germany's Covid restrictions?

The council of experts spent months evaluating the effects of measures imposed by the German government to help slow down the spread of Covid-19.

In the presentation of their findings on Friday, the panel said that measures like mask-wearing have had an effect, and can continue to be helpful against coronavirus.

The council said masks could be “an effective instrument”, but that there are limitations.

“An ill-fitting or not tight-fitting mask has a reduced to no effect,” said the council.

If masks are made compulsory again in the future, this should only apply indoors, because the risk of infection is higher there, the report said. 

However the experts added: “A general recommendation to wear FFP2 masks cannot be derived from the data so far.” Virologist Hendrick Streeck, who is on the panel, said that a “separate commission should look into this”.

READ ALSO: Germany’s current Covid mask rules 

On lockdowns, the experts said the usefulness of this measure depended on the infection situation. 

“When only a few people are infected, lockdown measures have a significantly stronger effect,” the report said. The longer a lockdown lasts, and the fewer people are willing to support the measure, the lesser the effect, experts added. 

Similar to to lockdown measures, contact tracing was also found to be effective in the early phases of the pandemic.

Members of the Covid expert panel Jutta Allmendinger, Hendrik Streeck, Harald Wilkoszewski and Helga Rübsamen-Schaeff speak on Friday.

Members of the Covid expert panel Jutta Allmendinger, Hendrik Streeck, Harald Wilkoszewski and Helga Rübsamen-Schaeff speak on Friday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Fabian Sommer

The report authors also said that the success of access restrictions, such as the 2G/3G measures (which mean people have to be vaccinated, recovered or tested to enter a public venue), depended on when people had had their jab or had been infected with Covid.

“The effect of 2G/3G measures is high with current variants in the first weeks after booster vaccination or recovery,” the report says. However, the protection against infection decreases significantly over time. 

In the current phase of the pandemic, it’s difficult to assess how useful these rules are, said the council. They recommended that in future, tests should be recommended as a condition of entry, regardless of vaccination status. 

Meanwhile, the evaluation concluded that risk communication in Germany was poorly used and that the information campaign to the public could have been better designed.

No statement on vaccinations

There are measures on which the committee did not make any statements, including vaccinations. Virologist Streek said that was the task of the Standing Commission on Vaccination (STIKO).

The experts were also weren’t clear on the controversial topic of school closures. Their effectiveness is “still open, despite biological plausibility and numerous studies”, the report said. The panel called for more studies on school closures.

READ ALSO: German Health Ministry lays out autumn Covid plan

The researchers said that they struggled to evaluate some measures due to poor data, and urged authorities to adopt better methods and practices on that front. 

“We have a poor data situation,” said virologist Streeck. 

As Germany is preparing for possible Covid waves in autumn, the Health Ministry will be looking at the report closely.

But Greens’ health expert Janosch Dahmen said the findings were of limited significance.

“The report provides supplementary evidence, but by no means a conclusive assessment of the effect of Covid protection measures,” said Dahmen.

The completion of the report, which should have been published on June 30th, was delayed.

In the run-up, the head of the council of experts, Stefan Huster, dampened expectations for the report.

“Anyone expecting a list with a plus or a minus behind all the individual measures for ‘effective’ or ‘not effective’ will be disappointed,” Huster told Spiegel. “Our perspective is more fundamental and looks at the structures, in terms of being well prepared for a pandemic.”

The panel, which included scientists and researchers in various fields, was commissioned by the German government to carry out the research.

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