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‘We’re in panic’: Travellers stranded for days after Polish-German border shuts

Border restrictions are resulting in chaos in parts of Germany. At the Polish border, some are even having to sleep in buses and cars.

'We're in panic': Travellers stranded for days after Polish-German border shuts
People in Germany's Frankfurt Oder standing at the border crossing waiting to enter Poland. Photo: DPA

With blank stares or catching a few winks of sleep curled up on uncomfortable chairs, dozens of people have been stranded for four days on a bus locked in gigantic tailbacks at the Polish-German border due to virus restrictions.

“Our bus is on its way to our home in Ukraine. We aren't allowed to enter Poland, the border crossing is closed, and we're in panic,” passenger Alexander on the Eurolines Cologne-Kiev service told AFP.

Queues of trucks, cars and other vehicles stretched up to 60 kilometres (37 miles) back from Germany's eastern border with Poland Wednesday, with Red Cross carers on the scene to attend to people waiting up to 30 hours.

“This is a questionable situation from a humanitarian perspective,” Red Cross worker Kai Kranich told German national news agency DPA.

Offering some hope the situation could soon ease, Polish authorities agreed Wednesday to open four new crossings with German states Brandenburg and Saxony.

READ ALSO: Drivers turned back as Germany partially closes borders to fight coronavirus

That was scant comfort to Alexander, who explained that some among the 50 passengers had been trekking 13 kilometres to buy food and toiletries rather than pay swingeing prices at the motorway service station where their bus was parked.

“We've been sleeping in this bus for four days, men, old women,” he said. “It's cold at night and during the day we have nothing to do.”

One passenger's condition had already got so bad that an ambulance had to be called, Alexander added, while others among the group had given up on waiting and made their own way back from the border.

“Our parents, our wives, our children are waiting for us at home,” the passenger said. “Please, help us.”'Waiting for help'

Border checks between Poland and Germany. Photo: DPA

The EU sealed its external borders to incoming travellers Wednesday to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, as the death toll of over 3,400 on the continent overtook that in Asia.

READ ALSO: EU imposes entry ban for 30 days in bid to slow coronavirus pandemic

But within the bloc frontier closures have been more piecemeal.

Governments are struggling to balance containment with upholding vital cross-border economic relationships in cases like truck-borne freight, cross-border commuters or seasonal farm workers.

On Tuesday, German chancellor Angela Merkel reiterated that “the free flow of goods must be guaranteed” between EU nations to avoid yet worse economic consequences than those already visible on the horizon.

But the free movement of people around the EU – one of the “four freedoms” at the heart of its single market – has largely fallen victim to the new wave of border closures.

Within two days of Germany closing its land borders Monday, federal police reported turning back 21,000 travellers who had sought to enter.

Many states are carrying out spot checks for potential virus infections on those looking to enter their territory.

“The Polish border guards checked all of our temperatures, everyone was healthy, no-one sick,” bus passenger Alexander said.

“I don't see any problem with us being allowed to return to our homeland,” he added. “Our travel company is doing nothing, our diplomats are doing nothing. We're waiting for help.”

By Odd Andersen with Tom Barfield in Frankfurt

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COVID-19 RULES

Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

German health ministers say that tougher Covid restrictions should come back into force if a serious wave emerges in autumn.

Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

Following a video meeting on Monday, the health ministers of Germany’s 16 states said tougher restrictions should be imposed again if they are needed. 

“The corona pandemic is not over yet – we must not be deceived by the current declining incidences,” said Saxony-Anhalt’s health minister Petra Grimm-Benne, of the Social Democrats, who currently chairs the Conference of Health Ministers (GMK).

According to the GMK, new virus variants are expected to appear in autumn and winter. Over the weekend, federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) also warned that the more dangerous Delta variant could return to Germany. “That is why the federal Ministry of Health should draw up a master plan to combat the corona pandemic as soon as possible and coordinate it with the states,” Grimm-Benne said.

Preparations should also include an amendment of the Infection Protection Act, ministers urged. They want to see the states given powers to react to the infection situation in autumn and winter. They called on the government to initiate the legislative process in a timely manner, and get the states actively involved.

The current Infection Protection Act expires on September 23rd this year. Germany has loosened much of its Covid restrictions in the last months, however, face masks are still compulsory on public transport as well as on planes. 

READ ALSO: Do people in Germany still have to wear Covid masks on planes?

The health ministers said that from autumn onwards, it should be possible for states to make masks compulsory indoors if the regional infection situation calls for it. Previously, wearing a Covid mask was obligatory in Germany when shopping and in restaurants and bars when not sitting at a table. 

Furthermore, the so-called 3G rule for accessing some venues and facilities – where people have to present proof of vaccination, recovery, or a negative test – should be implemented again if needed, as well as other infection protection rules, the ministers said. 

Bavaria’s health minister Klaus Holetschek, of the CSU, welcomed the ministers’ unanimous call for a revision of the Infection Protection Act. “The states must be able to take all necessary infection protection measures quickly, effectively, and with legal certainty,” he said.

North Rhine-Westphalia’s health minister Karl-Josef Laumann (CDU) warned that no one should “lull themselves into a false sense of security”.

“We must now prepare for the colder season and use the time to be able to answer important questions about the immunity of the population or the mechanisms of infection chains,” he said.

On Tuesday, Germany reported 86,253 Covid infections within the latest 24 hour period, as well as 215 Covid-related deaths. The 7-day incidence stood at 437.6 infections per 100,000 people. However, experts believe there could be twice as many infections because lots of cases go unreported. 

READ ALSO: Five things to know about the Covid pandemic in Germany right now

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