Travelling in Europe at the height of a pandemic

Covid 19 – picture CDC

Omicron is remarkable. A month ago we were unaware of it, now it threatens – single handedly – to “cancel” Christmas; for some reason, the politicians’ worst fear. It has thrown up a problem for me. At 2300 on 19 December 2021, Germany closed its border with the UK because – yet again – the UK is a considerable source of infection and has to be controlled. A mere 8 hours after the closure of the border, I was to set off on a journey to cross the border.

I am vaccine boosted (but that is no longer enough). I needed a negative PCR test. Bearing in mind it was only 24 hours earlier that the German Government announced the new restrictions, my journey got a whole lot more difficult. I had to search for a PCR test that could be delivered in super-quick time. The recommended testers by Eurostar had no appointments, and even if they did, they had to be done before 1300 for delivery by midnight. That was pushing my itinerary a bit.

I did actually find a company in London with appointments – Concepto Clinic. They have various locations in the UK. I went to the facility in the Hilton Hotel at Canary Wharf on the understanding that the day’s test result would be delivered overnight. It was. On that basis alone, I recommend the experience, despite the expense (all equivalents are similarly priced).

It was necessary. A negative test was required to board the Eurostar in London. Also necessary was a passenger locator form for Belgium (Eurostar terminus is Brussels). The form is online and is validated with a code either sent to the traveller’s email address or mobile phone. The locator form was checked again at Brussels by border police.

 German Emperor Wilhelm II, viewed from Hohenzollern railway bridge, Köln, Germany

I have additionally filled out a locator form for Germany. This form, for the new regulations, asks for a reason for travel. Visiting close relatives is a valid reason to travel. There is also a section on vaccine status, and being able to prove it. It is not entirely clear at the moment whether two jabs constitutes being vaccinated, or whether a booster is required. The form is online and is also validated with a code. My form was accepted by the system, though not checked despite border police being on the train.

One more thing about travelling with Deutsche Bahn, if a connection is missed (which in my experience is pretty common), the train managers do not seem to care that one is on an unscheduled train. There is no explaining to do, they point their machines at the QR code and move on.

The DB Navigator app is a bit of a curiosity. I travel paperless, so the ticket and itinerary are stored within and read by the train managers’ devices. The app informs you whether you are likely to meet your connections. If not, it offers alternative suggestions. I have found these to be not so wise to take up. Today, for example, I was offered a train from Köln involving some regional services as well as intercity. I think that unless one is terribly stuck, regional services point you in the right direction, but not much else. When booking, however, some of the real bargains on offer involve regional services, but when the booking is exclusively intercity, as mine was, they can extend journey times significantly.

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