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HEALTH

Germany and Austria draw up plan to reopen border

Austria and Germany plan to open their border on June 15th after being closed for two months in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, the government in Vienna said Wednesday.

Germany and Austria draw up plan to reopen border
Police stand on a street in Neuhaus am Inn, Bavaria to control the border with Austria on March 16th. Photo: DPA

“From June 15, the opening of the border between Germany and Austria will be possible,” Tourism Minister Elisabeth Köstinger told state radio station O1.

Restrictions on crossing the border will begin to be eased from May 15th, enabling business trips and family visits to take place, she added.
 
The German and Austrian chancellors, Angela Merkel and Sebastian Kurz spoke Tuesday and “agreed on a gradual opening” of the border”, the minister said.
 
Both nations consider they have the virus under control and were among the first in Europe to start lifting the measures taken to halt the spread of the pandemic.
 
The Austrian government was to examine Wednesday a progressive lifting of restrictions on freedom of movement to and from other border countries including Switzerland, Liechtenstein and eastern nations.
 
Germany has a warning in force until mid-June against taking foreign holidays.
 
 
With the tourism sector reeling, the European Commission was Wednesday set to urge EU countries to gradually reopen shuttered internal borders and to treat each member state according to the same criteria.
 
This would mean that if Austria opens its border with Germany, it must also open the border with the Czech Republic if that country is in a comparable health situation to Germany.
 
Germany closed the border with Austria on March 16th, and Austria in turn implemented the move a few days later. 
 
There are exceptions for commuters and freight traffic. In addition, those who can present a negative corona test that is only a few days old are allowed across the border.
 
Without such a certificate, the Austrian police almost exclusively let their own citizens into the country, who then have to go into domestic quarantine for 14 days at their destination.
 

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COVID-19 RULES

Germany to bring in new Covid rules ahead of ‘difficult’ winter

With infection numbers shooting up once again in Germany, states are set to bring in a new set of Covid measures on October 1st.

Germany to bring in new Covid rules ahead of 'difficult' winter

From Saturday, masks will no longer be required on commercial flights, though people will still be expected to wear an FFP2 mask on long-distance trains.

States will also be given the option to introduce mandatory masks in other public indoor spaces, including on local public transport and in schools. If they choose to bring in masks, they’ll also have the freedom to introduce exceptions to masks for people who are recently vaccinated or who have tested negative for Covid.

States will also be able to introduce compulsory testing in schools and nurseries.

READ ALSO: German states likely to keep mask mandate on public transport

Speaking at a press conference alongside Robert Koch Institute (RKI) chair Lothar Wieler on Friday, German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach defended the decision to keep Covid rules in place when other countries in Europe have largely got rid of their pandemic measures. 

“It’s not for me to criticise what other countries are doing,” said Lauterbach. “We have a particularly difficult winter ahead of us due to the energy crisis, we don’t want to make it worse through the Covid crisis.”

The SPD politician also defended plans for mandatory masks for residents and staff in nursing and care homes. Having 40 or 50 vulnerable people together in an enclosed space is “extremely high-risk”, he said. 

Under the new rules set to be introduced on Saturday, residents of care homes will be expected to wear FPP2 masks in all common areas of the home, and will only be able to take them off in their bedrooms.

“For people in nursing homes, the FFP2 mask requirement means a considerable cut in their quality of life,” Regina Görner, chairwoman of the Federal Association of Senior Citizens’ Organisations (Bagso), told DPA:

“The nursing home is their home, in which they can then no longer move freely without a mask.”

Visitors to nursing homes, meanwhile, will have to supply a negative Covid test, while staff will be tested three times a week. 

Under the autumn and winter rules, people across Germany will also be required to wear an FFP2 mask at their doctor’s surgery and in medical outpatient facilities such as hospitals.

“We’re better prepared than last autumn,” Lauterbach told reporters on Friday. “We have the infection numbers under control, we have this wave under control.” 

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS – Germany’s new Covid-19 rules for autumn

Steep rise in cases

As the weather turns colder, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) has reported a steep rise in respiratory infections, including Covid-19.

Last week, the number of Covid patients jumped dramatically from 500,000 to 1.2 million per week, with cases rising significantly in every age group.

Meanwhile, the 7-day incidence of Covid infections per 100,000 people shot up from 409 on Thursday to 466 on Friday. The previous week, the weekly incidence stood at 294 per 100,000 people. 

The numbers are believed to be partially inflated by the ongoing Oktoberfest beer festival, which is being held for the first time since the pandemic started. In Munich, the location of the festival, the weekly incidence is almost 800. 

Speaking at the press conference in Berlin on Friday, RKI chair Wieler warned people not to get complacent about the threat of infection.

“A mild course of illness simply means not ending up in hospital,” he said. “We should be conscious of how much risk we want take on, and how much risk we can avoid.”

RKI chief Lothar Wieler

Robert Koch Institute chair Lothar Wieler (l) and Heath Minister Karl Lauterbach (r) hold a press conference in Berlin on Friday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Wolfgang Kumm

Despite the looming energy crisis, the RKI boss advised the public to ensure that rooms were well ventilated, adding that spaces normally occupied by a large number of people should be aired out more regularly.

He also advised people with Covid symptoms to stay home until they felt better in order to avoid passing on any infections, and warned that people should be especially careful to avoid contact with vulnerable people.

“Just like before, these people need our solidarity,” he said. 

Self-isolation and quarantine rules vary from state to state, but people who test positive for Covid generally have to isolate for a minimum of five days and a maximum of 10.

In some cases, people can take an additional Covid test in order to end their isolation early.

The RKI has also recommended that people wear a mask in public enclosed spaces. 

READ ALSO: What will the Covid situation in Germany look like this autumn?

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