Berlin Germany wanted to avoid renewed border controls at all costs. But because of the high number of coronavirus infections in some neighboring countries, the federal government has now decided that new measures have to be taken.
Following the spread of new virus variants, Germany has again tightened the rules for entry from several EU countries and in some cases ordered stationary border controls.
In addition to the Czech Republic and Tyrol in Austria, Slovakia will also be subject to a travel ban starting Sunday due to the coronavirus pandemic. The German government classified the EU country on Friday as an area with particularly dangerous virus mutations, as the Robert Koch Institute announced on its website. This means that airlines and bus and train companies are no longer allowed to transport passengers from Slovakia to Germany. German citizens and foreigners living in Germany are exempt.
In Bavaria, mutations have already been detected in well over ten percent of infected persons - more than twice as many as in Germany as a whole, said Munich infectious disease expert Clemens Wendtner. He warned especially against the introduction of the dangerous South African coronavirus variant from Tyrol. This can only be prevented with stringent controls at the border, said the chief physician for infectious disease at the Munich Clinic Schwabing. If that does not work, the only option is to close the borders.
"We are dealing with the South African variant. As far as we know, it is even more dangerous than the British variant," Wendtner told Deutsche Presse-Agentur (German Press Agency). According to initial findings, it is not only more infectious, but also more deadly - and some vaccines are less effective against it. Even those who have already had coronavirus are likely to be infected again. The rate of second infections is therefore likely to rise.
The British variant, in turn, has already gained the upper hand in some eastern Bavarian regions among commuters from the Czech Republic. According to Wendtner, the proportion of mutants detected in the positive cases there is already over 40 percent in some instances.
Border controls with the Czech Republic and Tyrol are consequently also crucial in the view of Bavaria's State Premier Markus Söder (CSU). "We are in favor of a free Europe," but in the pandemic, safety must come first, he said in a statement delivered in the Bavarian state parliament in Munich. Stationary border controls could be set up Saturday night.
On Friday, representatives of various ministries in Berlin discussed what exceptions should be made for people entering the country from the Czech Republic and Tyrol (with the exception of the district of Lienz, the municipality of Jungholz, and the Rißtal valley). Among other things, this involves the exact rules for private vehicles - what to do if someone wants to cross the border in their own car.
On Thursday, Germany classified the Czech Republic and the state of Tyrol as virus mutation areas due to the increased occurrence of mutated coronaviruses. In addition, the Federal Ministry of the Interior ordered border controls starting Sunday to enforce the resulting transport and entry bans.
By and large, the regulations will probably be based on those that already exist for entries from other so-called virus mutation areas such as Portugal or Great Britain, it was said. In principle, only Germans, non-Germans residing in Germany, medical personnel and - under certain conditions - transit passengers are allowed to enter the country. Delivery traffic should also continue to be allowed, but possibly combined with the obligation for truck drivers to show a negative Covid-19 test.
The EU Commission called on Germany to grant exceptions for commuters. A spokesman noted on Friday that the EU states had only recently agreed on joint recommendations for travel during the coronavirus pandemic. It was expected that all countries would act accordingly. Border closures and blanket travel bans were to be avoided. Germany is urged to allow exceptions at least for essential travel and for border commuters.
In Slovakia, infection rates have been rising so dramatically since October that experts are warning of an imminent collapse of the healthcare system. The British variant B.1.1.7 of the coronavirus plays a particularly important role. According to several studies, it accounts for by far the largest proportion of new infections.
The infection incidence rate is an important factor in classifying a region as a virus variant area, said Steve Alter, spokesman for the German Ministry of the Interior. But among other things, he said, it also looks at what measures are being taken to contain the pandemic in the country in question.
Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) said it could not be ruled out that controls might also be carried out at other points along the border. However, in view of the important exchange in border regions, the federal government is taking a "very cautious and deliberate" approach to such measures.
(Orig. text: Anne-Béatrice-Clasmann und Michael Fischer, dpa / Translation:Carol Kloeppel)