Germans are in the midst of holiday fever following the widespread relaxation of coronavirus restrictions at home and abroad, opening the prospect of travel again for a nation that considers the summer break to be a basic human right.
A considerable improvement week on week since May in the country’s virus incidence rate, which stood at 22 per 100,000 on Thursday, a 42% decrease on last week, a vaccine campaign that was slow to start but has picked up pace, and relaxations of rules in holiday destinations such as Mallorca, have prompted a boom in bookings.
The foreign ministry has taken the Balearic island – Germans’ favourite destination – Italy, Croatia, the Czech Republic and Switzerland off a list of high-risk regions in recent days. They now count among the top destinations for hundreds of thousands of Germans who are planning to travel in the next few weeks now regulations in both directions have been relaxed.
However, Denmark, France and Greece, also typical favourites, are among those to still carry a warning, although consumer experts welcomed the fact that the caution attached to them meant it would be easier for holidaymakers to get their money back if journeys had to be cancelled.
Germans travelling require proof of a negative PCR test or a rapid antigen test, or proof that they are fully vaccinated or have had coronavirus in the last six months. Those returning from an area deemed high-risk – such as Egypt – are still required to quarantine for 10 days on their return; that rises to 14 days for those returning from “an area of variants of concern” such as the UK.
The foreign ministry continues to advise against any unnecessary foreign travel and medical experts have urged caution wherever travellers are going, warning that the incidence level may be lower than it has been since October, but that it is currently 10 times higher than it was a year ago.
Virologists say a rise in cases at the end of the summer break is almost inevitable, due in part to the increased mobility and the mixing in larger groups that will take place, coupled with a fall in temperature towards the autumn. But they hope that the expectation of a vaccine for all by mid-August to September will stop an uncontrolled fourth wave. However, the decision to let Germans travel remains a political gamble.
Most countries remain classified as “risk areas”, according to the government’s disease control agency, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), which has divided them into three categories: virus variant areas – including the UK, Brazil, India, Uruguay and South Africa, among 13 countries, followed by “high-incidence areas” – 24 countries, including Egypt, Chile, Argentina and Mexico, and “simple risk areas”, which is by far the longest list, and includes Portugal, Spain, Denmark, and plenty of other destinations favoured by German holidaymakers.
On Thursday, the health minister, Jens Spahn, launched a digital vaccine passport so that people who are vaccinated can show the proof in a coronavirus warning app or via a QR code on their mobile phones. He called it a new tool in the fight against coronavirus, which he hoped would “make getting a vaccine even more attractive”. It will be valid throughout the European Union, making travel easier. “The goal is that … in Helsinki, Amsterdam or on Mallorca this digital vaccine certificate will be able to be read,” Spahn said.
But at the same launch, Lothar Wieler, the head of the RKI, warned: “The pandemic is far from over.” He said: “It grasps at every little opportunity which we just should not give it.” This was borne out, he said, by deadly outbreaks still taking place in care homes in particular.
Germany’s daily death rate is hovering at about 100 a day. More than 90,000 people have died from the virus so far.
The tabloid Bild, the nation’s most popular newspaper, which claims to capture the country’s mood and often reports on holidaymaking as if it were a quasi-religious act, is reporting on the return of the chance to travel with at least as much enthusiasm as it handled the vaccine breakthrough. It is running daily rounds of question-and-answer sessions with consumer experts for its readers desperate to get answers to their myriad questions about the dos and don’ts of travel in the second pandemic summer.
Holidaymakers are rushing to book vaccinations following a lifting of vaccine prioritisation rules in Germany last week, which has made them more accessible to everyone.
Within Germany, where at Easter restrictions for holidaymakers were far tighter than for those heading abroad to Mallorca and Greece, much to the anger of local hoteliers, rules continue to differ across the country. But, generally speaking, those who are vaccinated no longer need to take a test when they head to popular destinations such as the North Sea islands or the Baltic coast. Those who are not vaccinated have to produce proof of a negative test result, which in some areas has to be repeated every three days, though that requirement is also being relaxed.
Tests are now readily available, with more than 15,000 pop-up centres having opened around the country. There are even special courier bikes that travel to the person wishing to be tested.
The challenge for many is where to find accommodation, with a lot of holidays already booked up. “Guests have said to me they would be prepared to sleep in a broom cupboard,” Nancy Engels, a hotelier on the island of Hiddensee in the northern state of Mecklenburg Vorpommern, told Spiegel.