Germany closed some of its borders, along with the Czech Republic and Austrian Tyrol, on Sunday in an attempt to contain the spread of COVID-19, sparking criticism from the European Union (EU) and protests from Vienna.
“It’s a disaster!”: Coming from Austria, Irene wanted to pass in transit through Germany by car, but the police stopped her dead at the Kiefersfelden border post, where the police, masks on the face, now strictly filter entries.
“I’m from Tyrol, I just wanted to transit through Germany to shorten the journey to Vienna. I have a 15 year old dog in the car and now I will have to spend hours on the small Austrian roads, all without GPS, ”she grumbles.
The only people authorized to pass: Germans, people residing in the country as well as cross-border workers and professions considered strategic, such as the transport of goods, on condition of being able to present a very recent negative PCR test for the coronavirus.
As of Sunday afternoon, German police had checked some 1,700 vehicles and turned back 500 of them.
A large system of a thousand police officers was mobilized to ensure these checks. The Deutsche Bahn railway company suspended its connections with these areas and the police carried out checks at the arrivals of Frankfurt airport.
“People who are turned away are left in line with their vehicles. A police car comes to the head of the convoy and brings them back to Austria, ”explained to the Kiefersfelden station a spokesperson for the police, Rainer Scharf.
At the Czech border, Sunday had to count with an hour of traffic jam.
These restrictions were decided on due to fears by the German government of a new wave of COVID-19 contamination from the British and South African variants of the virus. However, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and the Austrian region of Tyrol are considered by Berlin as high-risk areas.
Border controls could also soon be established at the border with Moselle, a French department where the circulation of variants is particularly active.
“We must prevent any further intrusion as best as possible”, argues the Minister of the Interior of Baden-Württemberg, a region bordering France.
This turn of the screw is not to the taste of the European Union, which fears, as in spring 2020, the temptation of “every man for himself” in the countries of the bloc and a questioning of the Schengen area of free movement in the face of the pandemic.
“The European Commission is concerned about recent unilateral decisions” in the area of borders, Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said on Sunday.
“The virus will not be stopped by closed borders”, also lamented the European Commissioner for Health Stella Kyriakides on Sunday in the German daily Augsburger Allgemeine.
“The only thing that helps are vaccines and health precautionary measures, in my opinion it is wrong to return to a Europe of closed borders”, she added.
“That’s enough!” retorted in the daily Bild the German Minister of the Interior Horst Seehofer, referring the European Commission to the criticisms to which it is subject for the slowness of the vaccination campaign.
The Commission “has made enough mistakes” like this “and should be supporting us rather than hampering us with its advice,” he said.
Germany is in favor of Europe without borders, “but there is a moment during a pandemic when such decisions must be taken to preserve public health”, added his colleague from Health, Jens Spahn, in the daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung.
Faced with the risk of variants of the virus, Berlin has just extended on its territory the partial confinement to which the population has been subjected since the end of last year, even if the number of infections is declining.