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UPDATE: Germany to close borders with Austria’s Tyrol and Czech regions

Germany will ban travel from Austria's Tyrol and Czech border regions from Sunday due to coronavirus mutation concerns.

UPDATE: Germany to close borders with Austria's Tyrol and Czech regions
AFP

The border will be closed over a troubling surge in infections of more contagious coronavirus variants, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said Thursday.

“The states of Bavaria and Saxony today asked the government to class Tyrol and the border regions of the Czech Republic as virus mutation areas, and to implement border controls,” Seehofer told the Süddeutsche newspaper.

“That has been agreed with the (German) chancellor and the vice-chancellor,” he said, adding that the new curbs will begin on Sunday.

Bavarian state premier Markus Söder had warned late Wednesday that if the Czech Republic was unable to take appropriate measures to curb contagion, then a “border closure must also be an issue”.

Germany in late January banned most travellers from countries classed as so-called mutation areas or places hardest hit by new, more contagious coronavirus variants.

Only a handful of exceptions are allowed to enter Germany from these countries, including returning Germans or residents and essential workers.

With neighbouring EU countries continuing to report high infection numbers in part fuelled by variants, German leaders fear that keeping the borders open could compromise the country's efforts to curb contagion.

Baden-Württemberg state premier Winfried Kretschmann said in a regional parliament session that if virus variants were to keep propagating in neighbouring countries, then “of course that can in the extreme case also lead to border closures”.

Austria has already ordered restrictions to stop people leaving the mountainous Tyrol region, which Chancellor Sebastian Kurz says has been hit by the biggest outbreak in Europe of the South African variant.

READ ALSO: 'Austria is acting irresponsibly': Germany considers border closures

Fearing superspreader hotspot

Anyone leaving the region must now show a negative coronavirus test, with fines of up to €1,450 ($1,750) for anyone who fails to comply.

But Söder, whose region borders Tyrol, previously said he feared that “a second Ischgl” was in the making – referring to the Austrian ski region which became a coronavirus superspreader hotspot early on in the pandemic.

Tyrol “is not taking the development seriously,” he said.

Meanwhile Saxony state, which lies next to the Czech Republic, already said it was imposing tougher checks from Saturday with restrictions to also affect cross-border workers.

Only workers in essential sectors – such as doctors or employees in elderly care home – would be allowed to travel in.

But they would be required to take virus tests daily and commit to travel only between their homes and workplaces.

The Czech government said Thursday it would block off three hard-hit districts, including two on the German border, stopping people living in these zones from leaving and others from entering.

Czech public health officials want the curb to be in force for three weeks, although there are likely to be exceptions.

 By Hui Min NEO

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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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