TRAVEL: Germany removes all countries from Covid ‘high risk’ list

Germany's high risk Covid travel list will be wiped clean on Thursday, making it easier to enter the country.

A passenger walks at Munich Airport in October 2021.
A passenger walks at Munich Airport in October 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sven Hoppe

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) said late on Tuesday that sweeping changes would be coming into force from Thursday. 

“With the widespread occurrence of the Omicron variant, the probability of this variant to have a severe course is shown to be less compared to the previous prevalent variants,” said the RKI.

“Therefore, as of Thursday, March 3rd, 2022 at 0:00am, no states/regions will be considered as high-risk areas with the Third Amendment to the Coronavirus Entry Regulation coming into force.”

The RKI said the designation of a high-risk area will only be made for those regions “where there is a high incidence in terms of the spread of variants with higher virulence, compared to the Omicron variant”.

They said that means no countries will be classified as high risk as of March 3rd. 

It will see around 60 countries wiped from the high risk list, including Austria, France, Greece, Switzerland and the Netherlands. The full list is available in English on the RKI’s website.

The move was originally planned for Friday. 

READ ALSO: The Covid rules changing in Germany this week

What does this mean?

The move significantly relaxes rules for travelling. 

When coming from a high risk region, unvaccinated travellers arriving in Germany have to quarantine for up to 10 days. They can take a Covid test five days into the quarantine at the earliest. If it is negative they can end the quarantine. 

Now unvaccinated people will not have to quarantine.

The obligation for everyone to register online before entering Germany also no longer applies.

However, the German Health Ministry pointed out that the 3G rule, which means that people entering the country must either be fully vaccinated, recovered or tested against Covid-19, still applies. That means unvaccinated people have to carry evidence of a negative Covid test before arrival.

Under the new rules, the obligation to provide proof of Covid status will apply to people from the age of 12 instead of six.

According to the new regulation, families with children will also be granted relief in future, too. 

Children aged 6-12 will be able to test immediately after returning from any future 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 10 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. 

Tougher rules will still apply if a country is classed as a ‘virus variant’ area in future. 

“The designation of countries as virus variant areas will continue to be reserved for those areas where a new variant with very particular threatening characteristics emerges (e.g. if vaccination is not effective),” a Health Ministry spokesman told The Local.  

It comes after Germany removed almost 40 countries from the high risk list on Sunday, including Italy, Poland and Sweden.

Since the outbreak of the Covid pandemic in spring 2020, Germany has classified regions with different risk statuses.

Depending on the classification, different rules have applied.

There are also other travel restrictions in place for travellers. For instance, only vaccinated people are generally allowed to travel to Germany from non-EU countries unless that country is on the ‘safe list’, or they are a German resident. 

READ ALSO: The new rules for entering Germany with an EU Covid pass

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Why could Germany’s €49 ticket threaten semester tickets for students?

A recent legal opinion suggests that Germany's €49 monthly ticket deal could jeopordise the future of the 'Semesterticket'.

Why could Germany’s €49 ticket threaten semester tickets for students?

Around three million students in Germany have a semester ticket – a special tariff which enables them to use local public transport at a fixed, low cost for a six-month period. The ticket operates on a so-called solidarity model, which means that all students are required to purchase it, regardless of whether they want to use it or not. 

Although the Semesterticket was considered a significant social achievement when it was first introduced in 1991, it has faced criticism and legal challenges over the years. Until now, these have been unsuccessful.

But the Deutschlandticket, which allows holders to use nationwide public transport for €49 per month, could pose a threat to the semester ticket model.

Why does the Deutschlandticket pose a problem for the Semesterticket?

A recent legal opinion commissioned by the Student Union (AStA) from the Technical University of Dortmund found that future lawsuits against the semester ticket model could be successful, because, in many cases, it is no longer significantly cheaper than other available transport options. 

READ ALSO: Who benefits the most (and least) from Germany’s new €49 ticket?

The opinion refers to an argument made by the Federal Administrative Court in an earlier legal case, which said that a solidarity model ticket should only offer a ticket that is significantly cheaper than all other public transport options.

The price for the Semesterticket varies depending on where you are in Germany. In Schweinfurt, in Franconia, the semester ticket currently costs less than €7 per month, but in larger cities like Berlin or Hamburg, it costs over €30, which is almost the same as the new “Deutschlandticket Jobticket” introduced for employees. In Cologne, Düsseldorf, or Aachen, the price for the semester ticket even exceeds €35.

The price difference compared to the €49 ticket could therefore be considered too small, especially considering that students can use it nationwide.

As a result, one university in Brandenburg has already withdrawn from the Semesterticket agreement with the Berlin-Brandenburg transport association (VBB), while a Berlin university has also suspended Semesterticket contracts from the winter semester onwards, and others are considering the same step.

Student representatives now fear that, if local transport authorities don’t make the €49 ticket cheaper for students, the Semesterticket model could be at risk of legal challenges.

“If the transport companies do not make the Semesterticket cheaper, we have to terminate the contracts,” David Wiegmann, the AStA chairman of TU Dortmund, told the German news site taz.

Matthias Anbuhl, the Chairman of the German National Association for Student Affairs, also said: “The solidarity model is a social achievement that is now in danger of collapsing.”

What solutions are being proposed?

The Conference of Transport Ministers (VMK), has formed a working group of representatives from the federal and state governments to develop proposals for a more affordable version of the €49 ticket targeting low-income groups like students.

READ ALSO: Germany’s most popular state plans discounted 49 ticket

According to the spokesperson for NRW Transport Minister Oliver Krischer (Greens), who currently leads the Conference of State Transport Ministers, their objective is to introduce a discounted model by the winter semester, though no concrete outcomes have been achieved so far.

One potential solution could be a nationwide semester ticket that is considerably cheaper than the €49 ticket. This alternative has already been given a name: the “Deutschlandticket Uni” (Germany Ticket for Universities).

But introducing this would require an agreement between the federal government and Germany’s 16 states, not only on the question of whether and how much funding they are willing to provide but also on reaching a consensus on the conditions.