Czechs rush to Germany before border closes
Czechs hurried to cross the German border on Saturday a day before it closes as part of Berlin's effort to stop the spread of highly infectious coronavirus strains.
Germany said on Thursday it would ban travel from the Czech Republic as well as from Austria's Tyrol region over a surge in the virus variants.
Germany classed the Czech Republic and Austria's Tyrol as hotspots and opted to implement border controls in its southern states of Bavaria and Saxony as of Sunday.
In normal times, there is free passage between fellow member states of the European Union like the Czech Republic and Germany.
"I must cross the border before midnight," professional driver Ludvik Boucek told AFP on Saturday afternoon as he washed his truck at a service area at the western Czech crossing of Rozvadov.
"I'm glad the company dispatcher told me about the closure. I hadn't heard anything about it," said Boucek, who is headed for England.
Only essential workers -- like doctors or employees in elderly care homes -- and returning Germans will be allowed to cross the border to Germany as of Sunday.
"Czech cross-border workers in Germany will need a certificate of 'indispensability' and a negative test every day," the Czech foreign ministry said in a tweet Saturday. "Border controls will be in place for at least 10 days."
Other travellers as well as cross-border students will have to go into two-week quarantine.
In late January, Berlin already restricted travel from countries or places hardest hit by new highly contagious coronavirus variants.
An EU member of 10.7 million people, the Czech Republic has registered some of the world's highest coronavirus infection rates on a per capita basis in recent months.
It has seen over a million confirmed cases and more than 18,000 deaths since the March outbreak.
The populist government of billionaire Prime Minister Andrej Babis failed in its attempt to extend a state of emergency past February 14 after it was voted down in parliament on Thursday.
The government has quarantined three worst-hit regions, deploying almost 600 police officers to carry out random checks on their borders.
Waiting to cross over into Bavaria at the snow-covered Czech Rozvadov crossing, van driver Milan Vaculka said he was worried about how and when he and his colleague might be able to return home.
"We have no idea what things will be like when we return. Nobody told us that," he told AFP.