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Holiday Flights From Germany Are On Despite Nation's Struggle To Contain The Pandemic


Doctors in Germany warn the country is running out of intensive care beds for COVID-19 patients, and they want tighter restrictions to curb another wave of infection. Meanwhile, airlines are sending a different message, adding hundreds of extra flights for Germans wanting to escape to Mediterranean beaches. Epidemiologists are predicting disaster. Esme Nicholson reports from Berlin.

ESME NICHOLSON, BYLINE: Germans love their Easter vacation, but with hotels and campgrounds closed across the country, most families here have little option other than to stay put for a second year running. While domestic travel is not banned, the government officially frowns upon it. So the Foreign Ministry's recent decision to lift testing and quarantine requirements for a number of southern European resort destinations has left many baffled. Others are taking advantage of it.


NICHOLSON: At Berlin's new airport, Kaya Becker is waiting to check in for a flight to the Spanish island of Mallorca, affectionately known here as Malle. The 30-year-old didn't think twice before booking one of the 500 extra flights scheduled to meet demand over Easter.

KAYA BECKER: I don't think it should be forbidden. It's important everyone takes care of their, like, mental health and so on. That's why I'm also going away to just take care of myself, basically, right?

NICHOLSON: Twenty-three-year-old Kitty Lode, who's just checked in for a flight to Portugal, says she feels a bit guilty but couldn't face staying home any longer.

KITTY LODE: I'm just trying to be careful so I don't spread anything, like, to others. But, like, I feel safe. I feel like my immune system is strong enough and that I can deal with it even if I get it.

NICHOLSON: Rubia Abu Hashim is more cautious. The 34-year-old social worker and her daughters are waiting outside the airport in the fresh air until it's time to go through security. But any anxiety about the virus is soothed by the prospect of sun, sea and sand.

RUBIA ABU HASHIM: (Through interpreter) I've been homeschooling four teenagers for the better part of a year, and I feel we've done our part for society. Now I just want to give my kids a proper break.

NICHOLSON: Germany's foreign ministry says the absence of a travel warning is not an invitation to go on vacation, but their message was lost on the 40,000 Germans traveling just to Mallorca over the Easter break. Testing has been reintroduced for all inbound flights, but there's still confusion over quarantine requirements, which vary from state to state. Epidemiologist and member of Merkel's government Karl Lauterbach says those jetting off for an Easter getaway haven't grasped the gravity of the current situation with the spread of more dangerous variants of the coronavirus.

KARL LAUTERBACH: (Through interpreter) We are at the beginning of a massive third wave. And because the B.1.1.7 is deadlier, we're going to see far more people in their 40s, 50s and 60s end up in intensive care, dead or chronically ill.

NICHOLSON: Lauterbach advocates a strict lockdown with nighttime curfews. But as long as they have some freedom of movement at home, Germans are making the most of the Easter break. For Berliners in apartments, that means taking the kids to the local playground, like 41-year-old Julia Hiller. She didn't feel it was right to fly away, but she doesn't feel any animosity towards those who have.

JULIA HILLER: I think maybe it's good that all who wants to go to Malle go there, party hard, come back and have the feeling of, OK, I can do another two months of staying put down. But maybe I will eat my word in two weeks and say, oh, God, the numbers. What did they bring back here?

NICHOLSON: Julia watches her daughter play in the sandpit, plastic pail and shovel in hand. She says it could almost be a beach on the Mediterranean.

For NPR News, I'm Esme Nicholson in Berlin.

(SOUNDBITE OF MINAMI DEUTSCH'S "TUNNEL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.