The Corona lockdown in Germany is going into another extension until March 28. This time with opening opportunities for stores and museums, according to the decision of the federal and state governments on March 3, but not yet for hotels and other tourism businesses. The urgent request to be on the road as little as possible remains. No relaxation is in sight for the strict entry rules either. Those who have been abroad must still be prepared for tests and checks. But what does this mean for vacation planning? What about travel during the Easter vacations? And with bookings for the coming months?
Will people be allowed to travel again?
Travel per se is not forbidden - as it has always been - but it is still expressly undesirable. Since the beginning of November, the federal government and the states have been asking people to "refrain from nonessential travel within Germany and abroad. And because an appeal alone is sometimes not enough, it continues to be accompanied by concrete measures that make travel more difficult. In Germany, for example, overnight accommodations may only be "made available for necessary and expressly non-tourism purposes." This means that business trips are permitted at best. Whether this will change during the Easter vacations, which begin in most German states on March 29, is not yet foreseeable. Only at the next summit of the federal and state governments on March 22, "in the light of the infection situation, taking into account the testing strategy that has been started, vaccination, the spread of virus mutants and other influencing factors," is it to be discussed, among other things, whether hotels should also be opened to vacationers.
Are there different regulations in the federal states?
This has not yet been determined, but is conceivable, since in the future the incidence value in the respective regions, i.e. the number of new infections per 100,000 inhabitants within one week, will be decisive for openings. Schleswig-Holstein Prime Minister Daniel Günther (CDU) could not imagine "that we will allow accommodations in Schleswig-Holstein earlier than the end of March". Tobias Woitendorf, managing director of the Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania state tourism association, brought up the idea of a special northern German tourism path with gradual openings, which could be scientifically monitored.
Is it allowed to visit relatives in other parts of Germany?
Visits to relatives should also be planned with a sense of proportion and caution. However, they are not expressly forbidden and are now somewhat easier to implement thanks to the relaxation of contact restrictions: Two households are allowed to meet as of March 8, with a total maximum of five people plus children up to age 14. With an incidence value below 35, there may be a maximum of ten people from three households.
Can a vacation which was 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. They may withdraw from the booking free of charge and reclaim deposits.
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.
What about traveling abroad?
Stays abroad and the return to Germany are made more difficult by testing and quarantine obligations: A negative Corona test is required of people entering Germany in many countries, for example in Italy or Spain, and sometimes, as in Austria, a quarantine is also required. Denmark does not allow foreigners without a residence in the country to enter at all. Many long-distance destinations are also still not accessible, or only under strict conditions. What applies in which country can be found in the travel advice issued by the German Foreign Office.
Germany is also imposing entry restrictions in its fight against the virus - especially in countries where highly contagious virus variants are prevalent. That's why travelers from countries particularly affected by the mutants have been banned from entering the country since Jan. 30. The list, which includes the United Kingdom, Ireland, Portugal, Brazil, the Czech Republic, the Austrian state of Tyrol and several African countries, is updated continuously. 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 fall under the stricter testing requirements and must already present a negative test result at the border that is no more than 48 hours old. The entry restrictions apply to land, air and sea borders. Checks are carried out at border crossings and in the form of spot checks as part of the border patrol: Drivers can expect to be stopped and asked to show identification and present their test results. Checks can also be expected at airports.
Regardless of this, the digital entry registration and the quarantine obligation remain in place in most federal states. You have to stay at home for at least five days, and only then are you allowed to be tested and, if the result is negative, to shorten the isolation period. This also applies when returning from a "normal" risk area - and this still includes a large number of countries worldwide, including all neighboring countries. Here, too, you must be tested on your return, either immediately before or immediately after your journey home. If you have previously been in a country where the incidence value is above 200, you must always be tested before entering the country. The list of affected countries is published by the Robert Koch Institute. The details of the quarantine are regulated by the federal states themselves. Thus, travelers in North Rhine-Westphalia have the choice between testing and quarantine. And in Bavaria, the duration of isolation has just been extended to up to 14 days. Incidentally, anyone who cannot work in a home office will not receive a salary during quarantine after a voluntary trip to the risk area.
The German Foreign Office always issues a travel warning for high-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 "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. Individual travelers do not usually have this option.
Are you allowed to ski during the Easter vacations?
Some small ski resorts in Germany are trying to make the most of the last of the season: In Winterberg in Sauerland, some lifts went into operation on March 9, and skiing is also possible in Willingen in Hesse. The major ski resorts on the edge of the Alps are still closed, in Garmisch-Partenkirchen it was already decided in February to write off the season completely in the ski area "Garmisch Classic", but still puts hopes on the Zugspitze. In Austria, skiing has been allowed since Christmas, but only for locals. Hotels are not allowed to accommodate tourists there either. Vacationers from risk areas - including Germany - must present a negative PCR or antigen test result upon entry and be quarantined. Stricter rules apply to Tyrol, where many infections are due to the virus variant first detected in South Africa. In the non-EU country of Switzerland, lifts are running in many ski resorts, while in Italy and France they also remain closed. The outlook for the Easter vacations is uncertain.
Do trains and long-distance buses run?
Necessary travel can still take place, even with Deutsche Bahn. Many trains are significantly emptier because fewer people are traveling. However, in order to ensure more space in the carriages as a matter of principle, it is no longer possible to reserve all seats on long-distance trains. The cancellation conditions remain unchanged: only the expensive Flexpreis tickets can be canceled or exchanged free of charge before the first day of validity. With the Sparpreis, cancellation is also possible up to the day before the journey. However, it costs ten euros and there is only one voucher. Supersparpreis tickets can neither be canceled nor exchanged.
The long-distance bus provider Flixbus discontinued its tours in Germany, Austria and Switzerland at the beginning of November. It is not yet known when the buses will start running again. Air traffic has been severely reduced for months anyway. If a booked flight is canceled, passengers are entitled to a refund under EU law. However, the current Corona restrictions do not entitle passengers to simply cancel a flight free of charge.
So-called surgical masks or mouth-nose coverings with the KN95/N95 or FFP2 standards must be worn on public transport.
What about travel in the coming months?
When and where people will be able to travel again 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 March 28, 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. They are 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.