KIEFERSFELDEN, Germany: 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.
A thousand police officers were 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, masked officers in yellow high-visibility vests were out in sub-zero temperatures, stopping each vehicle coming from Austria.
Under the new rules, only Germans or non-German residents are allowed through, 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 German interior ministry has said.
Among those turned back was Austrian driver Irene, who said she would now have to make an hours-long detour.
"I only wanted to drive through Germany to go to Vienna," she told AFP. "This is a catastrophe, I have a dog in the car who is 15 years old... I don’t know the way and I don’t have GPS."
The restrictions are aimed at slowing the spread of 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.
At the German-Czech border crossing in Bad Gottleuba, a police spokesman said the checks had caused waiting times of around one hour, and that traffic was expected to be heavier from Monday.
The European Commission, eager to avoid a return to go-it-alone pandemic responses, has condemned Germany’s border restrictions.
"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 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."
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