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When will Germany take the UK off its ‘variant of concern’ list?

A traveller arriving at Frankfurt Airport.
A traveller arriving at Frankfurt Airport. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sebastian Gollnow
Shortly before Christmas Germany added the UK to its ‘red list’ of countries where a variant of concern is spreading rapidly. The UK will be removed from the list when the Omicron variant also becomes dominant in Germany.

As of December 20th the United Kingdom and its overseas territories have joined eight African countries on a list of countries that Germany bans all but essential travel from.

The UK has been included on the list with South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Mozambique and some smaller southern African countries due to the emergence of the Omicron variant as the dominant coronavirus strain there.

All these countries will remain on the list until at least January 3rd.

Being placed on the Robert Koch Institute’s (RKI) red list comes with tough entry rules.

In fact, only German nationals and people with residency in Germany are allowed to enter Germany from these countries. Even they have to go into an immediate two-week quarantine regardless of their vaccine status.

The German government sets out quite clear parameters for when a country will be considered to be a Virusvariantengebiet (area of variant concern).

“A virus variant area is an area in which a specific variant of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus with characteristics of concern, which is not yet widespread in the Federal Republic of Germany, has been identified as occurring,” the RKI states on its website.

Characteristics of concern include a likelihood that prior immunity through infection of vaccination offers limited protection against the variant or that the variant is likely to cause more serious or more deadly symptoms of the Covid-19 disease.

The explanation goes on to state that “the virus variant being widespread in the Federal Republic of Germany can be assumed if it represents the dominant virus variant in Germany.”

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In other words, when Omicron becomes the dominant variant in Germany then other countries where Omicron is dominant will no longer be considered distinct based on the prevalence of a different strain of the virus. In all likelihood they will then be put onto the ‘high risk’ list, which allows for travel without quarantine for vaccinated people.

Reclassification only comes based on discussions between three federal ministries: the health ministry, the foreign ministry and the interior ministry.

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The last time that the UK was classified as an area of variant concern was during the early summer of this year when the Delta variant dominated there. But Germany was quick to remove the UK from its list, announcing on July 5th that it would be lowered to a high risk country due to Delta also establishing itself as the dominant strain in continental Europe.

Last week the Robert Koch Institute said that it expected the Omicron variant to become dominant in Germany within one to three weeks time.

Current data collection on how prevalent the Omicron variant is is being hampered by a lack of staff in laboratories over the Christmas break, with Health Minister Karl Lauterbach promising to get clarity on the situation as soon as possible.

But on the basis of the RKI prediction, a review of the travel rules for the UK, South Africa and the other countries on the list should be expected at some point in January.

The Local contacted the Health Ministry for clarity on whether a reclassification would happen as soon as Omicron becomes the dominant variant in Germany but had not received a reply at the time of publication.


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