Luxembourg urges Germany to reopen border closed by coronavirus

Luxembourg urged Germany Tuesday to end reinforced anti-virus measures on its border as EU partners struggle to coordinate their response to the pandemic.

Luxembourg urges Germany to reopen border closed by coronavirus
Federal police at the "border triangle" of Germany, France and Luxembourg controls traffic entering Germany in Perl, Saarland on March 16th, shortly after borders closed. Photo: DPA

Several European Union members have begun a phased return to normal after national lockdowns with signs that the coronavirus outbreak has passed its peak.

But on Monday, Germany decided to maintain controls on its border with its smaller neighbour – as well as Austria, Switzerland, France and Denmark – until at least May 15th, despite calls for solidarity within the bloc.

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

Luxembourg's Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn wrote to German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer to protest at the measure, which has caused public anger in a country heavily reliant on cross-border workers.

“The border closures and controls are causing growing discontent among the population on both sides of the border and risk permanently damaging cross-border coexistence in the Greater Region,” Asselborn warned.

He called for the extension of the controls to be halted.

“This would not only be an important signal to the citizens in our model European region, but also with regard to a gradual re-enactment of the Schengen Agreement, which represents one of the greatest achievements of the European unification process,” Asselborn said.

The 1990 Schengen Agreement, named after the Luxembourg town on the German and French borders where it was signed, is the basis for passport-free travel between most EU member states.

During the coronavirus outbreak, member states have suspended its provisions to allow greater border controls between them to protect the integrity of economic lockdown measures on their territory.

READ ALSO: Germany imposes border controls with five countries due to coronavirus

But the European Commission, and some member states, have urged members to protect the bloc's single market and principles of free movement, despite the concerns.

Luxembourg has seen 96 deaths from the virus, fewer per capita than its neighbours Belgium and the Netherlands, which still have open borders with Germany.

The Grand Duchy, sandwiched between much larger allies, is home to only 620,000 people and its economy depends on tens of thousands of cross-border commuters from Belgium, France and Germany.

Germany's neighbouring country's are currently discussing when to open up their borders again, or loosen border controls.

The border with Denmark will begin to be opened from May 15th, while the Czech Republic's president Andrej Babis announced his country will enforce border controls with Germany and Austria from at least June 13th.

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Pandemic in Germany unlikely to end this year, says top virologist

High profile German virologist Christian Drosten believes Germany will see a severe spike in Covid infections after summer, and that the pandemic will not become endemic this year.

Pandemic in Germany unlikely to end this year, says top virologist

Drosten previously said that Germany would probably be able to declare the end of the pandemic this year.

But in an interview with Spiegel, Drosten said he had reevaluated his opinion. 

“When the Alpha variant came, it was very surprising for me. When Delta appeared I was sceptical at first, then with Omicron we had to reorient ourselves again. And since January there have already been new Omicron subtypes.

“So I would actually like to correct myself: I no longer believe that by the end of the year we will have the impression that the pandemic is over.”

READ ALSO: End is in sight for pandemic in Germany, says virologist 

Drosten also said that Germany will not see a largely Covid-free summer, which has been the case in previous years, and a further increase in infections in autumn. 

“We are actually already seeing an exponential increase in case numbers again,” Drosten said.

“The BA.5 variant (of Omicron) is simply very transmissible, and people are losing their transmission protection from the last vaccination at the same time.”

In other countries, he said, when the number of cases become high, hospitalisation and death rates also rise again. “Unfortunately, that will also be the case here,” said Drosten, but added: “Overall, however, far fewer people will become seriously ill and die than in 2021.”

Drosten said he expected many more infections from September.

“I hope that the school holidays will dampen the increase in cases somewhat. But from September, I fear we will have very high case numbers,” the head of the virology department at Berlin’s Charité hospital told Spiegel.

READ ALSO: German Health Minister lays out autumn Covid plan

Virologist Christian Drosten at a Covid press conference in 2021.

Virologist Christian Drosten at a Covid press conference in 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

If the government does not take any action, he predicted there would be a lot of sick leave across all industries. “That will become a real problem,” he said.

Drosten said he did not expect overcrowded intensive care units in Germany.

But the new BA.5 sub-variant, which is becoming dominant in Germany, may affect people more strongly. 

“The wheel is turning more towards disease again,” said Drosten. It is not true that a virus automatically becomes more and more harmless in the course of evolution. “That makes me even more worried about the autumn,” he said.

Drosten recommends wearing masks indoors during the colder months, saying it is “the least painful” measure.

If, in addition, “up to 40 million people could be immunised or given a booster vaccination” before winter, for example by urgently calling for company vaccinations, that would “really make a difference”, Drosten said.

In the long term, he said it’s inevitable that people will become infected with coronavirus.

He said the population immunity due to vaccinations and infections will at some point be so strong that the virus will become less important. “Then we will be in an endemic state,” said Drosten. In the worst case, however, this could take “several more winters”.

However, Drosten warned against people trying to deliberately infect themselves with Covid, saying getting the infection in summer doesn’t mean people will be protected in winter. 

Drosten himself said he has not yet contracted Covid-19.

“So far, I guess I’ve just been lucky,” he said. “I rarely put myself in risky situations, but I’m not overly cautious either.”

‘Pandemic depends on behaviour’

According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI)’s latest weekly report, more outbreaks are occurring in care homes, and the number of patients in intensive care units is slightly rising as infections go up. 

The institute said there had been a 23 percent increase in the 7-day incidence compared to the previous week. On Friday the 7-day incidence stood at 618.2 infections per 100,000 people. There were 108,190 infections within the latest 24 hour period and 90 deaths. 

“The further course of the pandemic depends not only on the occurrence of new virus variants and the uptake of vaccinations on offer, it also depends to a large extent on the behaviour of the population,” said the RKI.

According to the DIVI intensive care register, the number of Covid-19 patients in ICUs had increased to 810 on Thursday this week, from about 600 at the beginning of the month.

However, that number is still low compared to previous Covid peaks when thousands of people were in intensive care in Germany.