The Corona lockdown in Germany is going into a further extension until April 18. As before, travel is only to take place if absolutely necessary. The Balearic Islands, on the other hand, were removed from the list of risk areas on March 14; testing and quarantine upon return were thus initially no longer required. The fierce debate about this has now led to a general obligation to test everyone who flies to Germany – regardless of which country they come from. What do vacationers have to be prepared for? And what about bookings for the coming months?
What does the announced mandatory testing for foreign travel mean?
Is it okay for Germans to fly to Mallorca on vacation without testing and quarantine upon return, while vacations in Germany are impossible? The question arose because of the correlation between incidence levels and travel warnings: if the number of infections per week falls below 50 per 100,000 inhabitants, as recently happened on the Balearic Islands in Spain, a region is no longer a risk area. The travel warning is lifted, and testing and quarantine on return home were no longer necessary under previous regulations. In view of the booking boom for Mallorca, the federal government has now made testing of passengers before flying home mandatory. And not only from Palma, but generally for flights from abroad.
Now, all persons wishing to enter the country by air must present a negative Corona test to the airline before take-off abroad – otherwise they will not be allowed to travel. Children up to five years of age and crews are exempt. The regulation has been in force since March 30 and is initially limited until May 12, 2021. It also means easier control of results. Whereas previously, people entering the country from non-risk areas were not tested at all, those returning home from risk areas were allowed up to 48 hours after their return to take their test. It was difficult to determine whether the test had actually been carried out.
Why air travel – and how must the tests proceed?
The new entry regulation specifically targets airline passengers. Testing prior to departure will “reduce the likelihood that infected persons will travel and infect others during the flight or cause an additional entry of SARS-CoV-2 infections into Germany,” the health ministry’s draft said. “Especially during air travel” people “come into contact with other people from all over the world,” it said. These meet, for example, inside airport buildings and in “sometimes cramped poorly ventilated rooms.” In principle, travelers must bear the costs of the test themselves – and in the event of a positive result, they must seek isolation at their own expense and on their own responsibility in accordance with the applicable local regulations.
According to the Federal Ministry of Health, PCR laboratory tests or rapid tests with certain minimum requirements can be carried out at approved laboratories. The certificate may be presented on paper or in digital form, and the swab may have been taken no more than 48 hours before entering Germany. The German Air Transport Association raised concerns before the law came into force that sufficient testing capacity and infrastructure was not available at all destinations around the world. It had been suggested to the government that the problem could be solved without compromising protection against infection by allowing travelers to be tested immediately at their destination airport after arriving in Germany in exceptional cases. This could prevent travelers from being stranded abroad.
Numerous travel providers and airlines want to offer their own testing services to their customers. After the Prime Minister’s Conference on March 22, airlines had already promised to let Mallorca vacationers test during the Easter period even before their flight home. In Palma, for example, the airport company Aena announced on March 24 that a testing center was operational at the airport. PCR tests and antigen tests are offered there. The results of the PCR tests, which cost around 70 euros, should be available 30 minutes to an hour and a half later.
Will foreign travel possibly soon be banned altogether?
Other restrictions have also been discussed recently. The German government has examined the possibility of temporarily banning travel to popular vacation destinations abroad altogether. However, there are “considerable legal reservations” about such measures, as Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) also admitted. A blanket travel ban affects fundamental rights and would be difficult to justify in view of the fact that there is currently a lower risk of infection on Mallorca, for example, than in Germany: government intervention must remain proportionate.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (SPD) said on Thursday that it was “not a simple balancing act”. What is needed, he said, is a very careful examination of a possible ban, especially since it is “very important” that “the things we set in motion can also be implemented afterwards.” Maas does not believe it makes sense to reactivate the Foreign Office’s worldwide travel warning for vacation travel: “We cannot permanently issue a travel warning for the entire world.” The system of travel advisories is intended to provide orientation, but “ultimately, people must decide for themselves whether to travel, and if so, where to travel.”
On March 29, a government spokesman stated that a legal regulation “going beyond the current provisions” was “not planned at this time.” The Chancellor’s mandate to investigate the possibility of preventing tourist travel is formally considered to be completed at this time. So, for the time being, we are left with measures that make traveling so difficult that people prefer to stay at home – such as the general test requirement when flying home.
What foreign travel is currently possible?
Apart from the Balearic Islands and regions in Croatia, which are no longer risk areas, there are hardly any vacation options in Europe at present. In many places, much stricter lockdown rules still apply. In Italy, for example, people are not allowed to leave their place of residence over the Easter holidays, in Austria tourists have to go into quarantine, and in France there are curfews. Denmark does not allow foreigners without a residence in the country to enter at all. Many long-distance destinations are also still inaccessible or only accessible under strict conditions. What is currently in force in which country can be found in the travel advice issued by the German Foreign Office.
Even before the mandatory testing for all airline passengers, there were graduated entry restrictions when returning to Germany – especially when it comes to countries where highly contagious virus variants are rampant. Travelers from countries particularly affected by the mutants have not been allowed into the country since January 30, and the list is continually updated. The entry ban does not apply to German citizens and people with a right of residence in Germany: they are allowed to return home, but were already subject to stricter testing requirements and had to show a negative test result at the border that was no more than 48 hours old. However, these entry restrictions apply not only to air borders but also to land and sea borders. Checks are carried out at border crossings and in the form of spot checks as part of the border-related dragnet: Drivers must expect to be stopped and asked to show identification and present their test results.
Even if one has previously been in a high-incidence area, i.e., a state in which the incidence value is more than 200, the test must in principle already be carried out before entry, and this is also independent of the means of transport. The list of affected countries is also published by the Robert Koch Institute. When returning from a “normal” risk area, digital entry notification was previously mandatory, as well as a test on return, either immediately before or immediately after the journey home. This option is now eliminated. However, it remains relevant: The German Foreign Office always issues a travel warning for risk areas. It allows package holidaymakers to cancel their trip free of charge, because in the event of “unavoidable, extraordinary circumstances” at the vacation destination that were not foreseeable at the time of booking and “significantly affect the implementation of the package tour or the transport of persons to the destination”, they are allowed to withdraw from the contract without having to pay the usual cancellation fees. Even if the organizer cancels the trip, he must refund the money. Individual travelers do not usually have this option.
Incidentally, those who cannot work in their home office do not receive a salary after a voluntary trip to the risk area during this time. The details of the entry and quarantine regulations are determined by the federal states themselves. There are certainly differences. In North Rhine-Westphalia, for example, travelers can choose between testing and quarantine after a stay in a risk area; in the other federal states, there is usually an obligation to undergo at least five days of self-isolation in addition to the test.
Is it allowed to travel within Germany during the current lockdown?
Travel per se is not prohibited – this has also been the case up to now – but is still expressly not desired. Already since the beginning of November, the federal and state governments have been asking people to “refrain from nonessential travel within Germany and also abroad.” In Germany, therefore, overnight accommodations may continue to be made available only “for necessary and expressly non-touristy purposes.” This means that business trips are permitted at most. Nothing will change during the Easter vacations either: Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Lower Saxony, Schleswig-Holstein, Saxony-Anhalt and Rhineland-Palatinate did not get a majority for their proposal to allow “low-contact vacations” at Easter in their own states, in self-catering vacation apartments, for example, or in mobile homes with their own shower and toilet.
Can a vacation already booked in Germany be canceled free of charge?
As long as hotels are not allowed to accommodate tourists, travelers in Germany are on the safe side. If a hotelier or vacation home rental company cannot provide the accommodation at all due to official requirements, the guest does not have to pay anything for it under German law. He may withdraw from the booking free of charge and reclaim deposits. Holidaymakers should invoke the “impossibility of performance”, says the Federation of German Consumer Organizations. With package tours the appropriate European travel guideline takes effect: If they cannot be realized as planned or are canceled by the organizer, the customer gets his money back – within 14 days. Vouchers can be offered, but do not have to be accepted.
Is it okay to visit relatives at Easter?
The Easter egg hunt with grandma and grandpa is possible, but the extended family party with uncle, aunt and great cousin is not: visits by relatives are only permitted to a very limited extent. Members of two households are allowed to meet, for a total maximum of five people plus children up to age 14 – unless there are even stricter contact restrictions due to high incidence. Couples with two homes are considered one household.
What about travel in the coming months?
When and where travel may resume in the spring and summer will depend on whether the number of new infections can be reduced. The long booked Whitsun vacation in May can nevertheless not yet be cancelled free of charge. The restrictions on travel in Germany are limited for the time being until April 18, and fear of Corona is not sufficient as a reason for cancellation. How it continues after that depends on the infection situation. Vacationers who are already sure that they do not want to travel should contact their host: Perhaps the hotelier will agree to postpone the stay. He is not obliged to do so. Those who book now should pay attention to cancellation conditions that are as flexible as possible. Many providers now allow travel cancellation at short notice in order to attract customers in this way, although some charge extra for this. Travel cancellation insurance offers no protection. It does cover cancellation fees if a trip cannot be taken. But it only pays out in the event of sudden illness, death in a close relative, unexpected unemployment or serious financial losses – and even then, not always: Some insurers exclude benefits for “damage, illness and death as a result of pandemics.
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