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Germany imposes controls on Czech and Austrian borders

Germany partially closed its borders with the Czech Republic and Austria's Tyrol on Sunday over a troubling surge in coronavirus mutations, drawing a swift rebuke from the European Union.

Germany imposes controls on Czech and Austrian borders
German police check a car at the Czech border. Photo: Odd Andersen/AFP
A thousand police officers have been mobilised to ensure strict border checks, which recall the much-criticised early days of the pandemic when EU countries hastily closed their frontiers to each other.
   
At the Kiefersfelden crossing in southern Bavaria, officers in yellow high-visibility vests and wearing balaclavas to stave off the chill in -15 degrees Celsius (5 degrees Fahrenheit), meticulously stopped each vehicle
coming from Austria.
   
Under the new rules, in place until February 17, only Germans or non-German residents are allowed to enter, and they must provide a recent negative coronavirus test.
   
Some exceptions are allowed for essential workers in sectors such as health and transport, as well as for urgent humanitarian reasons, the interior ministry has said.
   
German rail company Deutsche Bahn has suspended services to and from the affected areas.
   
At Frankfurt airport, the country's largest, federal police were on Sunday checking passengers arriving from Vienna and Prague.
   
The restrictions are aimed at slowing the spread of new, more contagious variants that first emerged in Britain and South Africa, and have created new virus hotspots along the Czech border and in Austria's Tyrol region.
 
 
READ ALSO: 
'Enough'
 
The European Commission, eager to avoid a return to go-it-alone pandemic responses, has condemned Germany's newest restrictions and urged it to facilitate cross-border movement for commuters.
   
“The fear of the coronavirus mutations is understandable,” EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides told Germany's Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper on Sunday.
 
“But the truth is that the virus cannot be stopped by closed borders,” she said, adding that vaccines and following hygiene precautions were “the only things that work”.
   
“I think it's wrong to return to a Europe with closed borders like we had in March 2020,” she added.
   
German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer has angrily rebuffed the criticism from Brussels.
   
“That's enough now,” he told the top-selling Bild daily. The EU “has made enough mistakes” with its sluggish vaccine rollout, he said.
   
“We are fighting against the mutated virus at the Czech and Austrian borders. The EU Commission should support us… instead of putting stones in our path.”
 
'Second Ischgl'
 
Chancellor Angela Merkel's government recently decided to extend Germany's partial lockdown until March 7 because of the risks posed by the variants, even if daily infection numbers have fallen over the past weeks.
   
In the Czech Republic, one of the hardest-hit countries in Europe, three cantons including two on the German border have been placed under lockdown due to the prevalence of the British virus variant.
   
In Austria, anyone leaving the mountainous region of Tyrol now needs to produce a negative coronavirus test following a cluster of cases linked to the highly transmissible South African variant.
   
Tyrol has allowed ski areas to remain open, supposedly for locals, but there has still been an influx of foreign skiers into the area.
   
Bavarian premier Markus Söder said he feared that “a second Ischgl” was in the making — a reference to the Austrian ski resort that became a Covid-19 hotspot last year and contributed to the virus's spread across Europe.
   
Germany has said it is also considering introducing checks at the border with the Moselle region in eastern France.
   
“Even though these virus variants are already circulating in Germany we need to prevent further intrusion as much as we can,” said the interior minister of the Baden-Wurttemberg region, Bavaria's neighbour.
 
 
 

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COVID-19

Munich sees sharp rise in Covid cases after Oktoberfest

Since the start of Germany’s Oktoberfest, the incidence of Covid infections in Munich has risen sharply. Though a connection with the festival can’t yet be proven, it seems likely.

Munich sees sharp rise in Covid cases after Oktoberfest

Two weeks after the start of Oktoberfest, the Covid numbers in Munich have more than tripled.

On Sunday, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported an incidence of 768.7 for the city of Munich, though updated figures for the end of the festival are not expected until later in the week. Usually, on weekends and public holidays, there is a delay in reports.

In the entire state of Bavaria, the incidence value on Sunday was 692.5.

According to Munich’s public health officer, Beatrix Zurek, bed occupancy in Munich hospitals has also increased. Two weeks ago, 200 beds in Munich were occupied by Covid patients, whereas there are now around 350.

Though a relationship between the sharp rise in infections with Oktoberfest, which ended on Monday, can’t be proven at the moment, it seems very likely, according to experts. A significant increase in Covid incidences has also been shown at other public festivals – about one and a half weeks after the start. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s famed Oktoberfest opens after two-year pandemic hiatus

After a two-year break due to the pandemic, around 5.7 million visitors came to this year’s Wiesn according to the festival management – around 600,000 fewer than at the last Oktoberfest before the pandemic in 2019, when there were 6.3 million.

Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) took to Twitter to comment on the rise in incidence in Munich during the Oktoberfest. “This would not have been necessary if self-tests had been taken before admission,” he said.

“Compared to the price of a measure of beer, €2-3 (for tests) wouldn’t have mattered,” he said.

Even before the start of the Wiesn, he had spoken out in favour of people taking voluntary self-tests. Lauterbach stressed that now is the time for special measures against Covid.

“The development shows what will happen if the states wait too long with the mask obligation in indoor areas,” he added.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Germany’s new Covid-19 rules from October

In neighbouring counties, where many Oktoberfest visitors came from, the number of Covid cases has also risen noticeably.  Beatrix Zurek said that it is unclear, however, how much of a role Oktoberfest played in these figures, as people are currently much more active socially overall, with concerts and other events also taking place throughout the state.

Christoph Spinner, an infections specialist at Munich’s Klinikum, has urged people not to be alarmed by the rising numbers.

“We had expected rising incidences here. We knew that there could be a doubling, tripling, even quadrupling,” he said.

He said that this is no cause for concern, as many people have been vaccinated or have also recovered from previous Covid infections, so any new infections are therefore usually mild.

The virologist advises people over 60 or with pre-existing conditions to get a second booster vaccination, but otherwise said people shouldn’t be alarmed by the rising incidences.

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