Travel to Germany during Covid-19: What you need to know before you go

Editor’s Note — Coronavirus cases remain high across the globe. Health officials caution that travel increases your chances of getting and spreading the virus. Staying home is the best way to stem transmission. Below is information on what to know if you still plan to travel, last updated on December 31.

(CNN) — If you’re planning to travel to Germany, here’s what you’ll need to know and expect if you want to visit during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The basics

Germany’s border policies are changing swiftly as the country regularly updates its lists of high and moderate risk destinations. As cases rise with the Delta and now Omicrom variants, Germany is accelerating its vaccination campaign. But the country is also at the heart of Europe’s new wave. In order to control rapidly rising case numbers, unvaccinated people will now be banned from most nonessential parts of daily life.

What’s on offer

Berlin, Munich and Frankfurt have long been cultural big-hitters. But there’s more to Germany than its superb cities — from hiking in Bavaria to wild forests on the French border and a hugely underrated coastline in the north. Throw in excellent public transport and road links and this is a country ripe for those keen on a long, free-form vacation.

Who can go

On November 26, along with other EU states, Germany imposed a temporary ban on arrivals from South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini until further notice. They have been designated areas of variants of concern. The UK was added to this list on December 20.

In principle, residents of EU member states and the Schengen-associated states of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland may enter Germany without restrictions — although if they become classed as high risk, or having a variant of concern, restrictions apply. Arrivals from several EU countries must now quarantine if they are unvaccinated — see below.

Arrivals from other countries depend on the epidemiological situation and vaccination status. As of December 31, tourists are allowed without restrictions from 19 non-EU destinations: Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Kuwait, Macao, New Zealand, Peru, Qatar, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Taiwan, United Arab Emirates and Uruguay. See here for a full list.

However, note that free access from Canada will only be allowed up until 23.59 on December 31, since it will be classed as high risk from January 1.

Arrivals from countries not on that list, other than the ones under a temporary travel ban, are allowed if fully vaccinated — see here.
However, special measures are in place when traveling from countries deemed high risk or having variants of concern — see here for a list. Whether you will have to quarantine or not depends on the risk level — see below.

What are the restrictions?

All arrivals must complete a digital registration form before travel. Those entering by plane must provide either a negative PCR test taken within 48 hours of travel, or proof of completed vaccination.

Travel for EU and Schengen-related residents is unrestricted — though you must use your EU Digital Certificate to show proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative test.

If you have been in a country designated to have a high level of risk within the past 10 days, you must provide a negative test result, and you must travel directly to your destination and quarantine there for 10 days. Those from a high-risk area may end quarantine early if they test negative after five days. The quarantine requirement is waived upon proof of vaccination or recovery.

If you have been in an “area of variant of concern,” there is a ban on entering via rail, ship, plane or bus. Essentially, you must drive, and then quarantine for 14 days.

The list was last updated December 30, with changes taking place on January 1. There are no new areas of variants of concern (since the UK’s addition on December 20), meaning that there are nine in total: Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe and the United Kingdom.

There are four new high-risk areas: Italy, Canada, Malta and San Marino. Mauritius has been removed from the high-risk list.

This means that free access from Canada will no longer be possible.

That leaves around 100 high-risk areas, including the US. The current list, last compiled on December 30, is here.
Anyone entering from countries not on the “safe list” must be fully vaccinated with either Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca or Johnson & Johnson, with the last dose having been administered at least 14 days before travel — see here for requirements.

If not vaccinated, only those traveling for essential reasons can enter. Unvaccinated children under 12 can enter if traveling with a vaccinated parent.

What’s the Covid situation?

Following spikes in winter 2020 and spring 2021, Germany saw case numbers drop dramatically as it ramped up its vaccination program. However, the Delta variant has put it at the heart of the new European wave. On November 8, the authorities announced that infection rates were at an all time high, with 201 infections per 100,000 people in the previous seven days — more than the previous record of 197.6 in December 2020. By November 16, that figure had risen to 312 infections per 100,000 people.

The week leading up to November 17 saw 287,364 positive cases — beating the previous week’s record of 263.779. The week leading up to November 27 smashed the previous records, with 403,452 new infections. However, it seems case numbers may be stabilizing, with over 364,000 cases recorded in the week leading up to December 9, and 299,122 in the week before December 17, and 193,252 running up to December 31.

As of December 31, there have been 111,929 deaths and over 7.2 million cases to date. It is the worst outbreak yet in the country. Some patients are being treated in Italy as hospitals are under pressure in Germany.

The government has offered booster shots to all adults in a bid to flatten the wave. The week leading up to December 17 saw a record 6.6 million of vaccines administered. Over 71% of the population is now double-vaccinated, according to the government.

What can visitors expect

On December 2, the government announced that unvaccinated people will be banned from restaurants and bars, movie theaters, gyms, nonessential shops, and Christmas markets.

Christmas Day gatherings in the country were reduced from 10 people to only five from two different households. People must work from home unless they cannot otherwise do their jobs — in which case they are subject to rigorous testing procedures.

Otherwise, restrictions across the country vary between the 16 states. You can find links to each state’s regulations on this government page, as restrictions tighten with infections increasing.
In Saxony, only people who can prove they have been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid can enter nonessential shops. And in Berlin, unvaccinated people are banned from restaurants, bars, cinemas and other entertainment venues.

In North Rhine Westphalia, unvaccinated citizens are barred from all nonessential shops and events including markets and sports matches.

A number of states, including Hamburg and Brandenburg, are allowing businesses the choice to bar entry to people who are not vaccinated.

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