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Thousands turned back at German border due to COVID controls

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Lines of traffic formed on two highways leading from the Czech Republic to Germany due to border controls
Lines of traffic formed on two highways leading from the Czech Republic to Germany due to border controls   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Petr David Josek
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Thousands of people have been turned back at the German border since Sunday, when controls were established to stop the spread of coronavirus variants.

Germany authorities say police have stopped some 5,000 people at the country’s borders with the Czech Republic and Austria’s Tyrol region.

Controls were imposed over fears about two coronavirus variants: the UK one, spreading in the Czech Republic, and the South Africa one, spreading in Tyrol.

It is restricting entry to German citizens and residents, truck drivers, transport and health service workers and a few others including cross-border commuters working in “systemically relevant sectors.”

All have to show a negative coronavirus test.

Interior Ministry spokesman Steve Alter said, by Monday morning, federal police had checked about 10,000 people and turned back some 5,000.

EU criticises border closure

Bavaria Governor Markus Soeder, whose state borders both Austria and the Czech Republic, said on Thursday ahead of the measures being imposed that authorities in Tyrol appeared not to be taking the issue seriously.

The checks have prompted strong criticism from Austria - and the European Union, which was hoping for a joint effort from member states in suppressing the spread of the virus this time around, unlike when countries took unilateral action on borders during the first wave last spring.

"The European Commission is concerned about recent unilateral decisions" on borders, Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said on Sunday.

"The virus will not let itself be stopped by closed borders", added European Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides on Sunday in the German daily Augsburger Allgemeine.

"The only thing that helps are vaccines and health precautions, it is in my opinion wrong to return to a Europe of closed borders", she added.

The Commission "has made enough mistakes" as it is "and should support us rather than hinder us with its advice," Interior Minister Horst Seehofer replied in the daily Bild, referring to the slowness of the EU’s vaccination campaign.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, defended the German measures.

He said that “the German government had to act here” to prevent the rapid spread of more contagious virus variants.

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.

The Czech Republic has seen more than a million cases and 18,250 deaths from coronavirus.

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.

Germany has recorded more than 2.3 million cases of the virus, and some 65,000 deaths.