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.
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.
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