Germany to tighten COVID controls at French border

German Federal police officers control vehicles at the closed border to France due to the Coronovirus Pandemic in Saarbruecken, Germany, 26 March 2020. [Ronald Wittek/EPA/EFE]

Germany on Sunday (28 February) declared France’s Covid-battered Moselle region a high-risk area for virus variants, prompting tougher entry rules for visitors at the border.

France’s eastern Moselle region is now classed as an area “at particularly high risk of infection due to widespread occurrence of SARS-CoV-2 virus variants”, Germany’s Robert Koch Institute for disease control announced.

From Tuesday, travellers from Moselle – which lies next to Germany’s Saarland and Rhineland-Palatinate states – will need to be able to show a fresh negative coronavirus test.

Germany has already introduced tough checks at its land borders with the Czech Republic and Austria’s Tyrol region, ignoring calls from Brussels to keep frontiers within the European Union open.

At those crossings, only Germans and non-German residents are allowed to enter, as well as lorry drivers and cross-border commuters working in certain categories of jobs.

Every vehicle is stopped and occupants must produce a negative test that is less than 48 hours old.

The checks on the German side of the Moselle crossing are expected to be less strict, a German interior ministry spokesman told AFP.

Instead of systematic checks, police would randomly stop vehicles on the German side and ask drivers to show “a negative test and their online entry registration”, he said.

Germany has grown increasingly concerned in recent weeks about the rapid spread of new, more contagious strains of the coronavirus, especially those first detected in Britain and South Africa.

‘Not sensible’

The coronavirus, including the more dangerous South African variant, is spreading faster in Moselle than elsewhere in France but French officials have pleaded with Berlin to avoid a full closure of the border.

The German classification “normally implies the extremely strict measure of a quasi-closure of borders”, France’s Europe Minister Clement Beaune said Sunday.

“We don’t want that,” he said, adding that talks were ongoing with Berlin to find solutions for the 16,000 commuters who travel between Moselle and Germany every day for work.

Beaune suggested the restrictions could perhaps be eased so that drivers only had to produce a fresh Covid-19 test “every two or three days” instead of daily.

He stressed that he wanted to avoid “the suffering of the early days of the pandemic” when border shutdowns in the spring of 2020 sparked Franco-German tensions.

The German interior ministry spokesman said the two neighbours would discuss details of the border implications on Monday.

Asked why the French checks would not be as stringent as those along the Czech and Austrian frontiers, the spokesman said Saarland and Rhineland-Palatinate had not requested border closures.

“And there is a good cooperation between the affected German and French regions,” he added.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who has been critical of Germany’s border curbs, on Friday called for an EU-wide approach to frontiers rather than go-it-alone decisions.

“Measures that lead to endangering the single market, prevent people from getting to their workplace or tear families apart, I don’t find very sensible,” Kurz told the German daily Merkur.

“Even within Germany the strictness of the border regulations varies,” he added.

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