BERLIN (Reuters) -Germany expects the Delta variant of COVID-19 to account for up to 80% of infections this month and could ease travel restrictions from countries like Portugal and Britain where it already dominates, its health minister said on Thursday.
Jens Spahn told a news conference that Germany could reduce the current 14-day quarantine requirement that it imposes on travellers from countries with high levels of the Delta variant once it is sure that vaccinated people are protected.
Spahn said the move could happen soon, without specifying.
Germany’s STIKO vaccination commission said later on Thursday that UK studies show that two vaccines doses seem to provide as much protection against the Delta variant as against other COVID-19 variants.
Spahn reiterated the importance of speeding up vaccinations, noting that 37% of Germany’s population has now received two shots, while 55% has had a first dose.
About half of German coronavirus cases are currently Delta variant and Spahn said it will dominate later this month.
Germany last week declared Portugal and Russia to be “virus-variant zones”, meaning only German residents can enter the country from those countries and still face a mandatory two-week quarantine even if they are fully vaccinated or test negative.
That had prompted German tourists there to rush home and airlines to cancel flights.
Germany also classifies Britain as such a “virus variant” zone. Chancellor Angela Merkel is due to discuss travel restrictions when she meets British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday.
Spahn suggested these countries could be shifted to a designation as risk areas, meaning people can travel if they are fully vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19, or be released from quarantine after five days if they test negative.
The European Commission said on Tuesday that Germany should not impose a travel ban on Portugal but limit itself to imposing testing and quarantine requirements to be in line with the European Union approach meant to ease summer travel.
(Reporting by Emma Thomasson and Thomas Escritt; Editing by Maria Sheahan and Catherine Evans)