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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.
 
 
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'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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TRAVEL NEWS

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”

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