This Christmas we took a trip to Germany. Our youngest son and his family live there now. It was going to be an opportunity to see them and their family. Our daughter and her family, who live in Vancouver, were also going to make the trip.
It would be the first time in two years that we would be able to see our children and grandchildren in person and, despite the risks associated with COVID-19, we thought it important to do everything we could to get together.
Sometimes, just to preserve your emotional and mental well-being, you have to make plans that may go against the advice or caution of others.
This was one of those times.
Covid-19 Cases & Statistics
As I write this post, case numbers are exploding around the planet, primarily it is believed due to the emergence of the latest variant of the virus, named Omicron. We are not surprised. We expected that could occur as we were making the last-minute travel plans.
Daily new COVID-19 cases: (clockwise from top left) Worldwide, United States, Canada, Germany
Alberta yesterday recorded the highest number of new cases since the pandemic began: 2,775. These came from only 9,400 tests representing a 30% positivity rate. We are full into a fifth wave of infections.
Daily new COVID-19 cases in Alberta
According to the statistical summary on Wikipedia, total COVID-19 related deaths since the beginning of the pandemic have reached 284.5 million worldwide (687 per million population), 53.7 million in the United States (2,465/million), 7.1 million in Germany (1,322/million) and 2.0 million in Canada (794/million).
So far, infections from Omicron appear to be less harmful although they have been found in fully vaccinated people to a much larger extent than previous variants. Hospitalization rates, including those in ICUs are lower than in past waves as well.
Travel Guidelines & Restrictions
Just prior to our leaving the Canadian federal government issued an advisory recommending people should not travel for non-essential reasons. As that statement came out only a day before our departure, it was not possible to cancel any flight or hotel reservations.
Had they gone up one category and advised against any travel, the provisions of our travel health insurance pertaining to COVID-19 would have been voided, something that would have concerned and, yes, angered us.
They had previously put in place other rules:
· All air travelers within Canada or leaving or arriving in the country had to be fully vaccinated (i.e. two doses). Booster doses were highly recommended (we had ours).
· A pre-entry test providing proof of a COVID-19 negative molecular test result, taken within 72 hours of departure time, was required to enter Canada.
· Registration on a new website called ArriveCAN was needed that would contain the vaccination and test records, travel information and quarantine plans (if necessary) provided within 72 hours of arrival in Canada.
Obtaining a “Covid Pass” showing the vaccination history along with the data contained in a QR code was desirable. This was also important and, in some cases, necessary in order to visit restaurants and some retail establishments. The code could be scanned on to a smart phone, which allowed it to be seen and checked by anyone who needed to see it. The QR codes was supposed to work anywhere in the world. They did not!
COVID vaccination sample pass with image uploaded to a phone
We purchased two test kits from SWITCH Health prior to our departure and carried them with us. Two days before departing Germany, we did the tests with a live online link to an agent of SWITCH Health who viewed the test process. It took about 45 minutes and we had the negative test results almost immediately.
Pre-Flight COVID-19 test result from SWITCH Health
The Feds also stipulated that another COVID-19 test would be required upon arrival back in Canada, essentially mandating two tests within three days. We have had to quarantine at home until the results of the test have been received. This seemed like overkill given all the vaccination and testing requirements already in place before we left home.
Both of us are thankfully negative.
Guidelines & Restrictions in Germany
Germany, of course, had its own rules regarding entry and access to various establishments.
In order to visit restaurants, stores and other venues, we had to provide vaccination records showing the last dose was not older than four months. Just before Christmas they changed that to three months. We were OK with that time frame as our booster shots were only three months before our trip.
Failing a recent vaccination, people had to provide a negative test result within one day. There are many sites throughout Stuttgart where one can walk up and get a test with the results emailed within 15 minutes.
As I said, the Canadian QR code did not work in Germany. With the assistance or our hotel, we were directed to a pharmacy where our vaccination information could be converted to and European Union document and the QR code uploaded to our phones. With that we could go anywhere. Nobody in Canada said this was possible!
After a long flight, including waits at airports, and processing through customs and security, we made it back home.
Not long after being in our own home we found out that two of our condo neighbours, along with their son who was staying with them, had contracted the virus just before Christmas. They all had bee fully vaccinated which shows how easily the recent variant can attack. They had only mild symptoms “very similar to a bad cold or mild flu” according to our neighbour.
Notwithstanding that, this is nothing we want to fool with and will continue to take pains to avoid unnecessary contacts with others for the foreseeable future.
Having been able to see our children and grandchildren, though, made all trouble and risk worthwhile.
The Shepheard Family at the Waldhotel, Stuttgart, Germany on Christmas Day