German Health Ministry drafts sweeping changes to travel rules

Germany is on the verge of removing over a hundred countries from its high-risk list as the Health Ministry sets forward a number of changes to travel rules.

Hamburg airport border control
Arriving passengers present their Covid paperwork at Hamburg airport. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christian Charisius

From March 4th, only regions with dominant virus variants that have “higher disease-causing properties” than Omicron will be put on the Robert Koch Institute’s high-risk list, which is subject to stringent travel rules.

The changes have been set out in a new draft law from the German Health Ministry that is due to be discussed by cabinet ministers on Wednesday.

They were agreed by state and federal leaders at a meeting on February 16th, in which the government also set its sights on a staged reopening plan.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: What you need to know about Germany’s Covid reopening plan

The proposals for travel would see over a hundred countries scrubbed from the risk list to allow unvaccinated travellers to enter Germany from these regions without having to quarantine.

Though Omicron is one of the most highly transmissible Covid variants, it generally causes a much milder course of illness than previous variants such as Delta. 

It continues to be the dominant variant in the vast majority of countries worldwide.

Changes for families

In addition to changes to the designation of high-risk areas, there are also plans to make life easier for families with young children.

From March 4th, children aged 6-12 will be able to test immediately after returning from a high-risk area to allow them to avoid having to quarantine.

Previously, all unvaccinated people over the age of six had to quarantine for up to ten days, with the option to test for an early release on the fifth day of quarantine.

Children under the age of six will be exempted from the testing requirement and will be automatically released from quarantine after five days. 

READ ALSO: German Health Ministry set to end quarantine for child travellers

Explaining the changes, the Health Ministry pointed to the fact that there is currently no general recommendation for children under the age of 12 to get vaccinated.

Rather, the Standing Vaccines Commission recommends that children with health conditions or those who have contact with people in risk groups, such as elderly grandparents, should get the Covid jabs. 

Regardless of whether people are arriving from a high-risk area, a general obligation to supply proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative test applies to everyone over the age of six upon entry into Germany. 

However, people who aren’t coming from a country on the RKI’s risk list don’t have to register on the Digital Entry Portal or quarantine upon arrival. 

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Do people in Germany still have to wear Covid masks on planes?

With the EU changing its Covid recommendations for flights, there is some confusion around whether people boarding a plane in Germany will still need to wear a mask. Here's what we know so far.

Do people in Germany still have to wear Covid masks on planes?

As of Monday, the aviation safety agency EASA and the EU health authority ECDC no longer recommend mandatory Covid masks in airports and on planes.

However, if masks are compulsory at the point of departure or destination, this should continue to apply in aircraft as well, they say.

So, what does this mean for passengers boarding flights in Germany? At the moment, not very much at all. 

In Germany, the Infection Protection Act still stipulates that masks have to be worn on long-distance trains and planes. Masks are also compulsory on local public transport.

The previous weeks have seen Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP) come out in favour of scrapping compulsory masks – especially on flights.

But so far, nothing concrete has been done to change the Infection Protection Act, which is due to expire on September 23rd. 

READ ALSO: German politicians row over lifting mandatory Covid mask rule

What are the current rules on flights? 

According to the Federal Ministry of Health, masks are compulsory on all flights taking off or landing in Germany.

FFP2 or medical masks must be worn when boarding and disembarking and throughout the flight, though they can be removed when eating and drinking.

Children under the age of six are exempt from the mask-wearing requirement. 

The ministry has argued that the obligation to wear masks also complies with the new EU recommendations. 

What are the rules across the EU? 

In general, the relaxed EU recommendation does not mean that masks are no longer compulsory on all flights. However, many countries have kept this measure in place as a simple way to reduce infection. 

Europe’s largest low-cost airline, Ryanair, published a list of 14 EU countries in which national laws continue to require the wearing of face masks to prevent the spread of Covid.

Besides Germany, popular tourist destinations such as Spain, Greece, Portugal, Italy and France are included on the list. 

In other EU countries, the airline said it would be dropping mandatory masks on flights, adding that it “welcomed” the relaxed recommendations from the EU health authorities.  

READ ALSO: Will Germany soon get rid of mandatory face masks on public transport?