Germany to ease quarantine rules for vaccinated travellers from ‘virus variant’ zones

The German government announced on Wednesday it plans to relax quarantine rules for fully vaccinated travellers arriving from 'virus variant areas of concern'.

Germany to ease quarantine rules for vaccinated travellers from 'virus variant' zones
Travellers in Frankfurt airport on July 17th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Frank Rumpenhorst

It came as Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet extended entry regulations to Germany put in place to help control the spread of Covid-19 until at least mid-September. 

Health Minister Jens Spahn said on Wednesday that the Covid travel rules will be in place until September 10th. They were set to expire at the end of July. 

However, a change in quarantine rules will mean that soon fully vaccinated people entering from so-called ‘virus variant of concern’ zones, such as Brazil and South Africa, will not have to isolate for 14 days.

They will be able to end their quarantine early if they can prove that their vaccination protection is effective against the virus variant in the area they are travelling from.

No details have been given yet on how people will have to prove that – and how early they can shorten the quarantine period. The Local Germany will report on this when we have more information. 

READ ALSO: How Germany’s latest rules on foreign travel affect you

Travel is banned from countries classed by Germany as ‘virus variant areas of concern’. There are some exceptions, including for German citizens and residents – but currently everyone coming from these areas has to quarantine for 14 days with no option to shorten it. 

The cabinet also made it clear that if a virus variant country is downgraded to a high-incidence area while returnees are still in quarantine, the rules for high-incidence areas will apply immediately. 

That means that people will be able to end their 14-day quarantine period after five days with a negative test, and end it immediately if they can prove they are have either been vaccinated against, or recovered from, Covid. 

The German government recently downgraded five countries, including the UK and Portugal, from virus variant areas to high incidence countries after the Delta variant became widespread in Germany. 

The new quarantine rules will come into force after the old regulation expires on July 28th.

READ ALSO: Brazilian workers and students demand end to travel ban

Covid infections expected to rise

Spahn said it was necessary to extend the existing regulations after Germany saw a spike in cases after summer last year. “We learned from last summer that we have to pay attention, also when traveling,” he said.

Spahn also warned of a drastic increase in the 7-day incidence of Covid infections in Germany if the current development continues. 

He said the incidence could reach 400 infections per 100,000 people in September – and even 800 cases per 100,000 people in October.

Spahn reiterated his message from previous weeks – that the situation in autumn depends on people’s behaviour now. He urged everyone to stick to basic restrictions like wearing a mask and keeping distance. 

READ ALSO: ‘Nobody can rule out enormous fourth wave’: German schools fear new Covid restrictions

The 7-day incidence of Covid-19 infections has been rising continuously for over two weeks in Germany, and has recently slipped into double-digits. According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) on Wednesday morning, the 7-day incidence was 11.4, compared with 10.9 on Tuesday.

Though still at a low level, the incidence has more than doubled since its most recent low of 4.9 on July 6th.

Spahn said consultations would be held with states to determine at what point restrictions would be introduced if needed. The situation is different today compared to last year due to the high vaccination rate, he said. 

The incidence has so far been the basis for many coronavirus restrictions in the pandemic. But in future, other factors ​​such as hospital admissions are to be taken into account more strongly.

READ ALSO: Germany to ‘focus more on Covid hospital admissions’ when deciding measures

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More staff, longer transfer times: How rail travel in Germany is being improved

Germany's state-owned railway operator wants to make life easier for passengers with longer transfer times and a boost in staff numbers.

More staff, longer transfer times: How rail travel in Germany is being improved

For most people who have travelled by train this summer, the frustration of delayed and cancelled services and missed connections will be all too familiar. 

Since the pandemic, Deutsche Bahn – Germany’s primary rail operator – has struggled to offer a reliable service to passengers, with just 58 percent of trains departing within five minutes of the scheduled time. To make matters worse, this figure doesn’t take into account the numerous services that have been cancelled outright – a situation that is also happening much more frequently.

READ ALSO: The shocking state of German trains exposes the myth about punctuality

To try and improve the customer experience, DB plans to shake up the way long-distance rail journeys are planned and advertised.

In future, potential delays to services will be factored into the journey plan on the DB Navigator app and internet booking portal. 

In concrete terms, this will mean that customers are given longer times to transfer so that the chance of missing their connection is much less likely. 

For example, if the quickest connection is five or six minutes after the first train is scheduled to arrive, the app may suggest the next train 10 or 15 minutes later to give passengers more of a buffer in the event of delays. 

“We no longer show tight connections that are difficult to achieve in the current operational situation when planning and booking,” said DB board member Michael Peterson.

There won’t be a set transfer time that the company believes is realistic. Instead, current issues and performance statistics on certain stretches of the train line will guide whether an eight or 12 minute transfer seems realistic. 

‘Easier to plan’

Though the quickest connection may not automatically show up on DB’s app or website, customers who end up making an earlier train won’t face any issues with the ticket inspector.

This applies even if the ticket appears to tie the passenger to a specific train service, Peterson said. 

Customers will also be given the flexibility to choose shorter or longer transfer times based on their preferences. Though this may lead to longer journeys, it could help prevent missed connections. 

“We want to make travelling easier to plan,” explained Peterson. “The fastest connection is not always the most reliable.”

READ ALSO: How to find cheap train tickets in Germany

People board an ICE train at Berlin Hauptbahnhof.

People board an ICE train at Berlin Hauptbahnhof. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Roberto Pfeil

The change to the ticket planning system will also have an impact on the company’s reimbursement policy.

If customers pick a connection that’s shown on the DB Navigator app or website and then miss their second train and face delays to their journey, they’ll still be entitled to compensation. For instance, an hour-long delay would equate to a 25 percent refund of the ticket price. 

However, if the quickest connection isn’t shown on the app but customers decide to risk it anyway, they won’t be entitled to their money back in the event of delays.

According to passenger advocacy group Pro Bahn, the new ‘buffer’ system for transfers should have a positive impact and reflects what many savvy rail travellers have been doing of their own accord.

Pro Bahn also assumes that the new transfer times will run until around 2024, when widespread construction work will begin on the railways.

More staff and seating

Alongside the more generous transfer times, Deutsche Bahn announced on Wednesday that it would be running a staffing offensive to help prevent delays.

This involves deploying almost 1,000 additional staff on long-distance trains and at stations.

This will include 750 additional staff on trains, 130 on particularly crowded platforms, and 100 assistants who will help passengers get on and off the train and find their seats.

They will join around 8,000 existing employees in DB’s long-distance division.

In addition, the company plans to invest around €10 billion in expanding its fleet and adding more seating by 2029. As a first step this year, the ICE fleet will grow to 360 trains, adding around 13,000 more seats for passengers. 

Though long-distance passenger numbers are still slightly below their record of 151 million in 2019, Peterson said DB was experiencing a “historic run on the railways” this year. 

READ ALSO: ‘We’re running late on this’: Deutsche Bahn promises better Wifi on German trains by 2026

Crowds gather on the platform at Cologne central station

Crowds gather on the platform at Cologne central station. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Thomas Banneyer

Transport performance, i.e. the number of kilometres travelled, reached a record high between May and July, according to the rail operator. “People are travelling further distances by rail than they did before the pandemic,” the company explained.

When it comes to the larger problems faced by German railways, such as the need to upgrade large stretches of the network, improvements could take years.

Speaking to Welt, Peterson said that the current changes were more than just a token gesture. 

“These are not decisions taken out of desperation, but measures that will help in a concrete way,” he stated.

However, the DB board member admitted that there was still a “long way to go” in solving the rail networks’ wider problems.

READ ALSO: How the Greens want to replace Germany’s €9 ticket deal