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‘Extremely strict’: What it’s like to travel from the UK to Germany right now

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After not seeing my family in about 18 months, I booked a flight to Scotland for early June when the Covid situation looked like it would be much improved in both the UK and Germany. 

As my family and I were fully vaccinated, it felt like the best time to visit, spend time with everyone and sort out some admin I needed to do in my home country. 

I knew there were risks – and I had to pay a lot for testing and quarantine for 10 days when arriving in Scotland – but for my own reasons it was the right time to head back. 

But as we’ve come to expect during this pandemic, nothing stays the same for long. Unfortunately the Delta variant, which was first discovered in India, began to spread in the UK in May.

And on May 21st, Germany announced it was making the UK a ‘virus variant area of concern’ – effectively banning travel –just two weeks after it had declared the UK ‘risk free’.

It plunged people’s plans into uncertainty. Those who were already in the UK worried that they wouldn’t be able to return to Germany, or stressed out over the two-week quarantine period – which is how long you have to self-isolate when returning from a ‘virus variant area of concern’ under German rules. 

We’d also been in this situation before. Germany banned travel from the UK in December just before Christmas when the Alpha variant was running rampant, leaving people – including German citizens and Brits who lived in Germany, controversially, – stranded on the border or refused entry onto flights.

READ ALSO: ‘Utter nightmare’: Brits barred from flights home to Germany amid travel chaos

Quickly, though, exceptions were put in place to allow certain groups of people – such as residents and citizens and their close family – to be able to return to Germany even if there was a general entry ban. 

As the situation can change quickly, I decided to take the risk and still travel to the UK in early June, hoping that the situation might look better later on in the month. 

The UK has a high vaccination rate – and Germany’s jabs were picking up – so for me it felt different and safer to travel in June than, for example, at Christmas when we were all much more exposed to the virus. 

Unfortunately, the restricted entry was still in place when I travelled back to Germany – although it could be lifted soon, as we learned from Health Minister Jens Spahn on Thursday. 

READ ALSO:

Expensive tests

Germany relaxed travel rules, particularly for vaccinated people and those who’ve recovered from Covid, in May. 

For instance, anyone travelling by air into Germany has to show a negative Covid test before boarding the flight. But if you’re vaccinated or have recovered from Covid you can show evidence of that instead. 

In general, different rules are required for arrivals from countries around the world depending on their risk status, although quarantine restrictions were eased recently – particularly for fully vaccinated people.

However, the rules are still tough when coming from a virus variant area, such as the UK, India and Brazil, and – most recently – Portugal and Russia. 

Even if you’re fully vaccinated, you have to show a negative PCR test (taken within 72 hours before you’re due to land in Germany) or a rapid antigen test (taken within 24 hours before landing).

A flight leaving London Heathrow. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/PA Wire | Steve Parsons

The issue in the UK is that there are not many places to get tested for Covid easily, especially in smaller cities and rural areas. 

And you’ll have to pay a lot for a test. Some places charge up to £150 for a PCR test. It’s a far cry from Germany’s testing network that allows for free antigen tests and much cheaper PCR tests. 

This is, of course, on top of what you paid for the day two and day eight testing when arriving in the UK. 

What happens before travel to Germany?

Once you have your negative test, you have to register online and upload it to www.einreiseanmeldung.de.

Then you may be asked – depending on your carrier – to upload the documents before you check in online. I uploaded my negative test and the PDF of the German registration to the British Airways site on my booking page. It’s usually only after these are verified that you can check in. 

My flight down to London from Scotland wasn’t overly complicated although I was asked my reason for travelling to Germany. When I explained I was a German resident, I was told evidence of this would be checked before boarding.

It got intense when we began boarding for the flight to Berlin.

The staff put out a call asking people to get their documents ready. Passengers stood around with folders of paper and their phones at the ready. 

The airline staff checked people’s documents thoroughly, and anyone that didn’t have the right papers or an out-of-date test certificate was asked to stand aside. 

A family of three who said they were coming to Germany for a wedding were not allowed on the plane.

“Sorry, the rules have changed,” said the staff member turning the family of three away and back into the departure lounge. “Only residents and citizens are allowed.”

Other people, including a group of three women, and another group of three young men, were also refused entry onto the plane. 

A few people were told that they didn’t have the correct documents but if they filled in the online entry form they might be able to get on.

There were several heated discussions with desperate travellers at the boarding gate as others – including many native German speakers – boarded with no problems.

I don’t have my Brexit residence card yet but I’d taken my Anmeldung (address registration document) for travel. It was accepted and I was able to board the plane. 

‘The rules have changed’

Once on, the pilot said we would be late in departing because staff needed to remove luggage from the hold belonging to the people who didn’t get on the flight. 

One passenger, whose documents were scrutinised before boarding, was sitting comfortably with his seat belt on when an air steward came over and asked him to leave the plane. 

“I don’t get it,” he said in an American accent as he followed the steward down the aisle and had to get off the plane. 

Some passengers, who had come from the US and were transferring through London to Germany said they recommended avoiding the UK in future. 

“It’s more trouble than it’s worth,” said one man. 

Germany says in general travel bans from countries affected by variants also apply for transit, but check official advice from the German Foreign Office and your airline for more information. 

Back in Germany I’ve had to complete a 14-day quarantine with no option of ending it earlier. My local health office contacted me by email on the first day of isolation offering a PCR test seven to 10 days into the isolation period. They also offered the option of entering into a hotel quarantine if I lived with a high risk person.

The rules are extremely strict and not to be taken lightly. But with the announcement from the Health Minister that Germany could downgrade the risk status of the UK soon. it will likely be a very different experience for others down the line.

Another thing to keep in mind is that flights are likely to be cancelled at the moment. My original flight home to Germany was cancelled, and I know people who’ve had to find other routes back to Germany because their flights were cut from the schedule. 

A British Airways spokesman told The Local: “Like other airlines, due to the current Coronavirus pandemic and global travel restrictions we are operating a reduced and dynamic schedule. 

“We advise customers to check the latest UK Government travel advice at gov.uk and their latest flight information at ba.com.”e



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The truth about Ireland’s monster €240bn debt: it wasn’t the banks

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There’s a perception that Ireland’s monster debt – it will be €240 billion by the end of the year, on a per capita basis the third highest in the world, was put there by band of rogue bankers. And that we as a people have been victims of a terrible wrong.

The truth of course is more sticky, more unpalatable than the bar stool narratives we tell ourselves.

Most of the debt – more than €100 billion – arose from a sequence of budget deficits run up in the wake of the 2008 financial crash and linked to then government’s mismanagement of the public finances, a government that we voted into office three times in succession.

The former Fianna Fáil-led administration had spent lavishly in 2000s while using windfall taxes from the property sector to plug the holes in its accounts.

Deficit

When these taxes dried up, the deficit ballooned. At the height of the crisis in 2009 the deficit was €23 billion. That meant the State was spending €23 billion more than it was taking in by way of taxes and other income.

This necessitated borrowing on a grand scale, which went on – to a varying extent – for a decade until the State ran a budget surplus in 2018.

The original cost of bailing out the banks was €64 billion but this has been clawed back to around €40 billion by way of levies, dividends and share selloffs arising out of the State’s ownership of the banks.

It’s a big number, but less than half the bill foisted upon us from budgetary mismanagement, none of which can be clawed back.

On a per capita basis, the State’s debt figure equates to €46,000 for every man, woman and child in the State and €103,300 for every worker.

And the cost of servicing it has cost us €60 billion over the past decade: equivalent to three years of health spending. Make no mistake the State is paying for its boom time folly.

So it behoves us to sit up and listen when the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council (Ifac) sounds a note of caution about the Government’s budgetary strategy, particularly when it claims we’re sailing close to unsustainable debt trajectory.

And not to dismiss the council’s critique, as some do, as an act of fiscal pedantry, far removed from the realpolitik of government.

While the €4.2 billion spending hike earmarked for Budget 2022 is broadly welcomed, the council takes issue with the Government’s medium-term budgetary strategy, which envisages a series of much bigger budget deficits out to 2025 and nearly €19 billion in additional borrowing.

Debt

This will leave the State with a bigger and less manageable debt up the line and therefore more exposed to the next crisis. There was now a one in four chance of the national debt moving on to an unsustainable trajectory in the years ahead, it said.

The council also warned that borrowing and ramping up spending during a strong recovery could “backfire” triggering an acceleration in prices if capacity constraints, most notably in the construction sector, bite.

You would think that as a country with a big debt, the chief threat here is rising interest rates, something that is likely to arise if the current pick-up in inflation proves longer than expected.

Ifac has stress-tested the Irish economy against possible interest rate hikes and growth shocks, finding the latter poses a greater problem.

While a big 2 percentage point shock to the Government’s borrowing costs would add just 0.4 percentage points to the debt ratio in three years it would barely raise annual funding costs. This is largely because the National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA) bond issuance is long-dated and, in the main, fixed rate.

In contrast a typical growth shock of 3.6 per cent for two years could add over 20 percentage points to the debt ratio in three years. “With high debt ratios to begin with, this could snowball and make it difficult to pull down debt ratios in later years,” it said.

Plan

Two years ago, NTMA chief Conor O’Kelly was asked what the chief financial risks facing the agency were and if it had a Brexit contingency plan.

He said the agency operated on “permanent contingency” basis . As a small, highly-indebted economy, which relies on international investors for 90 per cent of its borrowings, he said Ireland and the NTMA needed to be in a permanent state of crisis readiness.

The reality is that the next shock, the next thing that will hit our funding market, will probably be something that we have not yet thought of and is not on the front page of every newspaper in the world, O’Kelly said. Nine months later, the Covid crisis hit and the global economy fell off a cliff and the NTMA’s borrowing plans were out the window.

This goes to the heart of Ifac’s commentary: it’s not a case of wondering if there will be another recession or if there will be another financial shock, that’s a given, they’re coming on average every 10 years.

Downturns are part of the natural cycle, financial shocks are part of the global economy. The question is, will you be in a position to borrow and spend your way out of it.


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Berlin house seizure referendum approaches decision day

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In her apartment in suburban Berlin, Regina Lehmann despairs at the letter from her landlord, a big real estate group: the rent is going up.

Effective November 1, the increase of 12.34 euros ($14.54) on her monthly rent of 623.44 euros will be “difficult” to finance with her only income a disability pension, Lehmann tells AFP.

Almost 700 of her neighbours in the popular Berlin neighbourhood of Spandau will suffer the same fate, boosting their rent by up to eight percent.

Increases like these are at the root of a popular initiative to “expropriate” real estate companies such as Adler, which owns Lehmann’s flat,
that will culminate in a local referendum on September 26, the same day as national and municipal elections.

Residents in the capital have become increasingly frustrated with rising housing costs, as the city’s attractiveness to outsiders has grown in recent years.

And beyond Berlin, the cost of housing has become a hot topic on the campaign trail in the contest to succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor.

Back in Lehmann’s living room, surrounded by pictures of her family, Lehmann says she simply “won’t pay” the rise.

“I think, if we pay, after a while they’ll just increase the rent again,” she says.

364,000 signatures

Rent campaigners secured the referendum in Berlin after collecting 346,000 signatures in support of their proposition — well above the number needed.

They are pushing to “expropriate” homes from real estate companies with more than 3,000 properties.

The result of the poll will not be binding, but advocates hope to force city government to respond to soaring rents, with the cost of housing going up by 85 percent between 2007 and 2019.

The rise has been painful for residents in the capital where 80 percent of people are renters, and 19.3 percent of people live under the country’s poverty line, compared to 15.9 percent in the country as a whole.

Campaigners lay the blame at the door of major real estate groups, such as Adler, which owns 20,000 properties in Berlin.

In Lehmann’s Spandau district, activists argue Adler’s attempt to hike rents is illegal, exceeding a legal reference index linked to the average rent in each area.

SEE ALSO:

The property group, in response, describes an “improved environment” around the lodgings that gives it grounds to charge more.

Supporters of expropriation have upped the tempo of their campaign in recent weeks to win over undecided voters, hanging posters and organising demonstrations across the city.

Many Berliners experienced rent increases after the German constitutional court struck down a rent cap which had been introduced by the city earlier this year, and a poll by the Tagesspiegel daily showed 47 percent of residents supported the radical proposal put forward in the referendum.

“We have to fight for our rights,” says Catia Santos, 41, who recently attended a rent protest with her partner.

“Recently my rent has gone up by 100 euros, even though I am not earning any more than before.”

Political clash

On Friday, just over a week before the vote, the city of Berlin announced the purchase of 14,750 residential properties for 2.4 billion euros from German real estate giants Deutsche Wohnen and Vonovia, a deal forged under pressure to find an answer to rising rents.

Forcibly taking ownership of privately owned accommodation has largely been rejected by national and local politicians in favour of plans to speed up the building of new homes.

“The best protection for renters is and always will be having enough places to live in,” Armin Laschet, the conservative candidate to succeed Merkel as chancellor, told a real estate conference in Berlin in June.

The social-democrat favourite in the local Berlin elections, Franziska Giffey, also declared her opposition to the proposal, saying it could “damage” the city’s reputation.

But her party’s candidate to be chancellor, Olaf Scholz, has called for a “rent moratorium” to stabilise prices.

Only the far-left Die Linke and some individual Green candidates have come out in favour of expropriation, with some even displaying the rent campaigners’ logo on their election materials.



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President’s decision to decline invite to centenary an ‘own goal’, says Senator

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President Michael D Higgins’s decision to decline an invite to a centenary church religious commemoration of partition and the establishment of Northern Ireland has been branded an “own goal” by Independent Senator Gerard Craughwell.

The move was “uncharacteristic” of the President, who has “always been the man to step forward for reconciliation and to do his bit to try to bring this country together”, said Mr Craughwell on Saturday.

The event in Co Armagh next month is not a celebration, but a commemoration, he said, adding that the declination has brought about a “deep sense of disappointment” in some unionists.

“I think we have missed an opportunity to extend the hand of friendship to the more moderate unionists and we have actually enraged the more radical unionists,” he told RTÉ’s Saturday with Katie Hannon radio programme.

Mr Higgins was invited to a “service of reflection and hope”, the Senator noted, adding: “Any of us sitting in this country today, north or south, would want to reflect on the history of this country with the hope that we might have for the future of the new Ireland- an Ireland that would embrace all traditions.”

Mr Higgins’s statement politicised the situation, which was “so uncharacteristic of the President it is difficult to accept”, he added.

Mr Craughwell was one of six Independent Senators who signed a letter to the President on Thursday voicing concerns that he had declined the invitation.

In their letter, the Independent Senators said: “We earnestly suggest, if possible that you should reconsider the matter with a view to attending the event as we believe your attendance has significant potential to advance the cause of reconciliation between the different traditions in Northern Ireland and on this island.”

‘Serious mileage’

Mr Craughwell said there will be “extreme unionists who make serious mileage out of this and the more moderate ones will be deeply hurt”.

Sinn Féin’s David Cullinane told the programme he could not see “any circumstance” where the President of Ireland would mark, commemorate or celebrate partition.

Mr Cullinane said there is a “fine line between commemoration and celebration”, and he said partition of the island is not a historical event but contemporary, as the country “is still divided and our country is still partitioned”.

Social Democrat co-leader Róisín Shortall said she agrees with the actions of the President, who was “completely within his right” to decline the invitation.

“The partition of Ireland and the formation of Northern Ireland is not something that most people would consider good developments or something that we should celebrate in any way,” she said.

There would be a “very different discussion” to be had, with other concerns expressed, said Ms Shortall, if the President had accepted the invitation to the event with its current title, which stated it would “mark the centenaries of the partition of Ireland and the formation of Northern Ireland”.

Minister of State for the Department of Health Mary Butler said the discussion around the issue has been “a little bit unhelpful” as it overshadowed the President’s visit to the Vatican.

“Unfortunately something that was really positive turned into a negative … The President of our country is entitled to make a decision on any invitation he receives,” she said.

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