Germany to remove Austria from ‘high risk’ list on Christmas Day

In a boost for Austria's winter tourism season, Germany's Robert Koch Institute (RKI) has announced that it will scrub neighbouring Austria from its risk list on December 25th.

Snow in Graz
Snow covers the city centre of Graz, Austria, in early December. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/APA | Erwin Scheriau

The decision was announced by the public health authority on Thursday. Along with Austria, Belize, Bosnia, Malaysia and Serbia were removed from the high-risk list

The USA, Spain, Finland, Portugal, Cyprus and Monaco were all upgraded to the ‘high risk’ category. 

Austria had previously been categorised as a ‘high risk’ country, meaning travellers entering Germany from across the border had to fill in a Digital Entry Form and submit proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative test.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What are the rules for entering Germany this Christmas and New Year?

Unvaccinated people were also required to quarantine for 10 days – or five with a further negative test. 

The change is good news for ski resort and hotel operators in Austria, as the loosened travel rules are likely to give the seasonal economy a much-needed boost.

Welcoming the news, Austrian Tourism Minister Elisabeth Köstinger credited the country’s “successful safety measures” and “proven prevention concepts” with convincing its neighbouring country. 

“With about 37 percent of all overnight stays in the winter season, Germany is the largest and most important source market,” she said. “The fact that we were again classified as a high-risk area due to the high infection figures in November was therefore particularly bitter.” 

Amid spiralling Covid infections, Austria enforced a three-week national lockdown in November, which was lifted for vaccinated people on December 12th.

However, with fears growing over the highly transmissible Omicron variant, the lockdown was extended for the unvaccinated on December 21st. 

Meanwhile, Germany has tightened its entry rules slightly in the run up to the festive season.

Since Thursday, all entrants over the age of six must carry proof that they have been vaccinated or have recovered and have also been PCR-tested.

Previously, this only applied to people aged twelve and over.

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Munich sees sharp rise in Covid cases after Oktoberfest

Since the start of Germany’s Oktoberfest, the incidence of Covid infections in Munich has risen sharply. Though a connection with the festival can’t yet be proven, it seems likely.

Munich sees sharp rise in Covid cases after Oktoberfest

Two weeks after the start of Oktoberfest, the Covid numbers in Munich have more than tripled.

On Sunday, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported an incidence of 768.7 for the city of Munich, though updated figures for the end of the festival are not expected until later in the week. Usually, on weekends and public holidays, there is a delay in reports.

In the entire state of Bavaria, the incidence value on Sunday was 692.5.

According to Munich’s public health officer, Beatrix Zurek, bed occupancy in Munich hospitals has also increased. Two weeks ago, 200 beds in Munich were occupied by Covid patients, whereas there are now around 350.

Though a relationship between the sharp rise in infections with Oktoberfest, which ended on Monday, can’t be proven at the moment, it seems very likely, according to experts. A significant increase in Covid incidences has also been shown at other public festivals – about one and a half weeks after the start. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s famed Oktoberfest opens after two-year pandemic hiatus

After a two-year break due to the pandemic, around 5.7 million visitors came to this year’s Wiesn according to the festival management – around 600,000 fewer than at the last Oktoberfest before the pandemic in 2019, when there were 6.3 million.

Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) took to Twitter to comment on the rise in incidence in Munich during the Oktoberfest. “This would not have been necessary if self-tests had been taken before admission,” he said.

“Compared to the price of a measure of beer, €2-3 (for tests) wouldn’t have mattered,” he said.

Even before the start of the Wiesn, he had spoken out in favour of people taking voluntary self-tests. Lauterbach stressed that now is the time for special measures against Covid.

“The development shows what will happen if the states wait too long with the mask obligation in indoor areas,” he added.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Germany’s new Covid-19 rules from October

In neighbouring counties, where many Oktoberfest visitors came from, the number of Covid cases has also risen noticeably.  Beatrix Zurek said that it is unclear, however, how much of a role Oktoberfest played in these figures, as people are currently much more active socially overall, with concerts and other events also taking place throughout the state.

Christoph Spinner, an infections specialist at Munich’s Klinikum, has urged people not to be alarmed by the rising numbers.

“We had expected rising incidences here. We knew that there could be a doubling, tripling, even quadrupling,” he said.

He said that this is no cause for concern, as many people have been vaccinated or have also recovered from previous Covid infections, so any new infections are therefore usually mild.

The virologist advises people over 60 or with pre-existing conditions to get a second booster vaccination, but otherwise said people shouldn’t be alarmed by the rising incidences.