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Germany to reinstate border controls over coronavirus variant

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Cars queue in front of a Corona test station at the German-Czech Republic border in Furth im Wald, Germany, Monday, Jan. 25, 2021.
Cars queue in front of a Corona test station at the German-Czech Republic border in Furth im Wald, Germany, Monday, Jan. 25, 2021.   -   Copyright  Armin Weigel/dpa via AP
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Germany is to close its borders with the Czech Republic and the Austrian Tyrol region -- both zones with high infection rates of contagious COVID-19 variants.

Horst Seehofer told the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper that the measure will come into force on Sunday evening, with some exceptions which are currently under discussion.

The Tyrol and the Czech regions bordering Germany will be classified on the list of territories highly affected by virus mutations, Seehofer said.

Travellers coming from certain areas of Austria or the Czech Republic will have to provide proof of a negative coronavirus test in order to enter Germany, a requirement that will present a hurdle for thousands of cross-border workers.

It is not clear for how long the border controls will last.

Bavaria Governor Markus Soeder, whose state borders both Austria and the Czech Republic, said earlier Thursday that in the event of such action by the federal government, Bavaria would request permission to erect border posts where travellers who don’t present a negative COVID-19 test would be turned away.

Soeder said all the regions of Bavaria with high coronavirus infection rates, except for one, are located on the German-Czech border.

He praised measures taken by the Czech Republic to contain the spread of virus variants and criticised authorities in Tyrol, saying they appeared not to be taking the issue seriously.

Germany's restricted list already includes the likes of Britain, South Africa, Brazil and Portugal, all countries from which most journeys were banned at the end of January.

These restrictions do not affect Germans living in those countries, nationals from those countries living in Germany, transit passengers or freight traffic.

Exemptions could be set out for certain categories concerning Austria and the Czech Republic, in particular to protect Germany's close economic ties with those countries.

The Czech government announced on Thursday that it was isolating three regions, including two which border Germany, because of a high incidence of the British variant of the coronavirus.

Residents are not allowed to leave these areas, and no-one can enter apart from certain exceptions, said the government in Prague.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the country’s 16 governors decided on Wednesday to largely extend the country’s coronavirus lockdown until March 7 amid concern that new virus variants could reverse a decline in new confirmed cases.

In a speech to Parliament on Thursday, Merkel defended her government's decision to set a lower infection target for easing the lockdown further: a number of new weekly cases per 100,000 inhabitants below 35.