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June 24, 2021

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Germany eases travel rules for vaccinated as vacations loom

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German Health Minister Jens Spahn arrives for a press conference in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, May 12, 2021.
German Health Minister Jens Spahn arrives for a press conference in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, May 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn) Photo Gallery

BERLIN — The German government has agreed to let travelers who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 or recovered from infection avoid testing and quarantine when entering the country, unless they come from areas where variants of concern are prevalent.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Cabinet on Wednesday approved a change to existing rules that will also allow non-vaccinated people to end their quarantine early if they test negative.

The measures are designed to make summer travel easier, particularly for families when parents are vaccinated and children aren’t.

German media have reported that doctors in the country are coming under growing pressure from people hoping to go on summer vacation to give them vaccines even though they aren’t entitled to them yet.

Health Minister Jens Spahn said the country expects to roll out its digital immunity certificate by the end of June, making it easier to prove a person has been fully vaccinated.

The certificate can be stored in an app that can be used instead of the yellow World Health Organization vaccine booklet. The goal is for it to be compatible with a vaccine certification system being developed by the European Union.

“If we mange to do this for the EU in the coming weeks, then we’ll likely set a global benchmark,” said Spahn, adding that other countries have yet to even agree a system at the national level.

Asked whether Germany would recognize travelers’ certificates for vaccines not authorized for use in the 27-nation EU, Spahn said this would depend on whether the shot reduces the risk of infecting others.

Vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency, such as that made by Germany’s BioNTech and U.S. partner Pfizer, have been shown to both protect from serious illness and significantly decrease transmission of the virus.

“The vaccines approved outside of Europe need to prove that they can reduce the infection risk to a similar extent,” said Spahn. “If that’s the case then I have no problem with equating them (with EMA-approved shots), but I want to have proof.”

Like other EU countries, Germany has significantly accelerated its rate of vaccination after a sluggish start at the end of last year. Over the past week 5 million doses were administered in the country, a number the government aims to double as the vaccine supply grows.

Official figures show that a third of Germany’s 83 million inhabitants had received at least one dose by Monday, while almost 10% had received both doses.

Several German states are planning to relax pandemic restrictions in regions where the number of confirmed infections is below the threshold of 100 weekly cases per 100,000 inhabitants. Bavaria’s governor said open-air cultural events with up to 250 people and pre-booked swimming in outside pools will be allowed again in those regions from May 21.

The head of Germany’s disease control agency warned against complacency, noting that the country still has about 1,000 COVID-related deaths a week.

“If we open too early, then the virus will keep spreading,” said Lothar Wieler of the Robert Koch Institute.

The agency reported 14,909 newly confirmed cases Tuesday, and 268 deaths.

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