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

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.

A traveller arriving at Frankfurt Airport.
A traveller arriving at Frankfurt Airport. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sebastian Gollnow

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.”

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.


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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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 acros 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?