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Germany to ramp up checks on returning travelers

August 26, 2020

German Health Minister Jens Spahn said authorities are taking steps to increase digitalization to track travelers. The annoncement came after data showed that more than 40% of new infections were contracted overseas.

Coronavirus | Deutschland | Berlin Hauptbahnhof Teststation
Image: Getty Images/M. Hitij

German Health Minister Jens Spahn announced that Germany will intensify checks on travelers returning from high-risk areas, after data showed that more than 40% of new infections were contracted overseas.

Random checks are already being carried out, he said, but "these are to be intensified" to make sure that travelers are abiding by quarantine rules.

"As a measure to achieve this, the federal cabinet has decided to increase digitalization. Digital boarding passes for air travel, for example, should help to reduce the workload of local health authorities."

Read more:  Coronavirus: Study reveals how most Germans get infected 

After the end of the main travel season, authorities are expected to implement a "strengthened quarantine regime" for entries from high-risk areas, he said.

"At a time when the number of new infections in Germany is low, it is important to prevent the virus from spreading within the country through returning travelers."

With autumn and winter nearing, Spahn added, hospitals and nursing homes in particular need to be even more strongly protected against the virus.

On Monday, Spahn agreed with his 16 counterparts at the state level to new rules that would remove the testing requirement and instead require people returning from high-risk areas to self-isolate. 

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The number of tests conducted in Germany had previously surged due to regulations requiring these travelers be tested, causing a shortage in testing facilities, Spahn said. The measures allowed travelers returning from coronavirus risk areas to be tested for free at airports, train stations and highway stops, cutting down the required two-week quarantine if the test result was negative.

Under the new proposal, testing would no longer be mandatory. Instead, those returning from high-risk areas would be required to self-isolate for 14 days, with the option of taking a test starting from the fifth day to potentially cut short the quarantine period. Unless ordered by a doctor, the test may no longer be free of charge. 

Read moreAs Germany expands COVID-19 travel tests, politicians debate cost

Additionally, the Foreign Ministry is expected to extend the coronavirus travel warning for more than 160 countries outside of Europe until September 14.

Germany has recently seen a rise in confirmed coronavirus cases, with health officials warning of an impending second wave.

The suggested policy change is set to be discussed in a video conference between Chancellor Angela Merkel and state premiers on Thursday.

State premier of Bavaria Markus Söder criticized the plan to end free mass testing, saying it would be wrong to end the testing measure two weeks after it began.

The high number of return travelers testing positive showed that it was not "mass testing," but a targeted test strategy, he said. 

Germany reported 1,576 new cases on Wednesday, bringing the total number to 236,429, according to data from the Robert Koch Institute. The reported death toll rose by three bringing the total to 9,280.

Holidaying safely in a pandemic

lc/stb (dpa, Reuters)