Germany ready to extend border closures to keep out Covid-19 mutations

Tough travel restrictions on five countries, including Ireland and the UK, to be extended

Germany may step up border closures to contain the spread of Covid-19 mutations, despite travel disruption and criticism from its neighbours.

Kilometre-long queues of lorries, scenes more familiar from the English port of Dover, were the reality on Germany’s border to the Czech Republic and Tyrol in Austria after tighter rules came into force on Monday.

In the first 24 hours of the new regime on the German-Austrian border, nearly 17,000 people and 11,000 vehicles were checked and almost 300 people were refused entry.

Unlike previous closures these new travel restrictions apply to foreign-national commuters and hauliers as well as key workers – all of whom have to provide a test no older than 72 hours to enter Germany.


After a surge in mutations in eastern French regions, a German government spokesman declined to rule out further closures. French European affairs minister Clement Beaune vowed to “do everything to avoid an unco-ordinated decision and a nasty surprise” from Berlin.

After two months of lockdown, Germany’s national incidence rate fell to 59 per 100,000 of population over seven days. A target of 35 is required before lockdown measures can be lifted. But German authorities fear this progress could be undermined if Covid-19 variants spread beyond border regions.

Areas of Saxony, on the German-Czech border, are still reporting incidence rates of around 400 – with rates of 1,000 registered on the Czech side, in particular cases of the South African variant.

Key workers

Austria’s Tyrol province is one of Europe’s hotspots for the South African variant, with all but eight of the country’s 279 confirmed cases detected there. The UK variant is spreading most rapidly in the Austrian capital, with 471 cases to date.

While Vienna has imposed its own travel restrictions on Tyrol, it described the German border regime as “disproportionate”.

On Tuesday, 48 hours after the imposition of the travel restrictions, Austrian officials complained that Germany had yet to define who qualified as a key workers under the new rules, which are applicable until mid-March.

After long queues on some border crossings on Monday, tailbacks were shorter on Tuesday after Germany opened special crossings for commuters.

Separately, Germany is set to extend until the start of March tough travel restrictions to mutation hotspots further afield, which have effectively halted travel from five countries including Ireland and the UK.

Federal health minister Jens Spahn said on Tuesday that a two-week extension was justified given “the recognisable rapid increase in the number of cases” in these countries.

As with the Czech and Austrian restrictions, those still allowed arrive from Ireland and the other countries include German citizens, foreign-national permanent residents and transit passengers.

Mr Spahn has also announced plans for the introduction of free Covid-19 rapid tests for all German residents from the start of March 1st. The antigen tests, using saliva samples, will be available without charge in existing test centres, as well as doctors’ practices, dentists and pharmacies.

He was following a similar announcement by Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz on Monday, a week after the Alpine republic began loosening its lockdown restrictions.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin