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Germany closes borders to try to slow virus

Image copyright AFP Image caption The French-German border is allowing only goods and commuters to pass Germany has become the latest country to close borders as European nations try to stem the spread of the coronavirus.Its borders with France, Austria and Switzerland were shut on Monday morning, except for commercial traffic. France is considering more…

A German police officer controls a motorist at the French-German border between Kehl and StrasbourgImage copyright
AFP

Image caption

The French-German border is allowing only goods and commuters to pass

Germany has become the latest country to close borders as European nations try to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

Its borders with France, Austria and Switzerland were shut on Monday morning, except for commercial traffic.

France is considering more stringent lockdowns, with its health chief saying the situation is “deteriorating fast”.

Latest World Health Organization (WHO) figures list 164,000 confirmed cases and 6,470 deaths worldwide.

However, last week it said Europe was now the “epicentre” of the virus and urged governments to act aggressively to control the spread of the Covid-19 disease.

Leaders of the G7 nations are to hold a video conference on Monday to discuss a joint response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Central banks around the world, including the US Federal Reserve and those in the UK, Japan, Canada, and Switzerland have cut interest rates and taken other measures to try to curb the economic turmoil, but stock markets in Asia and Europe still fell.

The EU’s Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton said a recession was now expected, with a 2-2.5% negative growth.

Airlines are also continuing to slash flights as demand slumps.

Why and how has Germany acted?

Germany had tried to resist closing its borders, to try to keep the Schengen agreement on free travel between European countries working, but traffic crossing the borders with the three neighbours and also Luxembourg will now be restricted to goods and work commuters.

The aim is to stem the spread of the virus but also to curtail cross-border panic-buying, German media reported.

Only the borders with the Netherlands and Belgium are as yet unaffected.

Schools in Germany were closed on Monday, while Berlin over the weekend shut all clubs, bars and fitness centres. Large gatherings nationwide are banned.

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Media captionEverything you need to know about the coronavirus – explained in one minute by the BBC’s Laura Foster

German tourism giant TUI said on Monday it was suspending most of its operations and asked for state aid.

Germany now has close to 5,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus, and 12 deaths.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas responded to reports that US President Donald Trump wanted to buy exclusive access to a potential vaccine developed by a German biotech firm, saying: “We cannot allow others to seek exclusive results.”

What are the other restrictions in Europe?

Germany’s neighbours such as Poland, the Czech Republic and Denmark have already closed borders or introduced severe restrictions.

But there are a vast amount of travel restrictions inside many countries.

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Media captionPolice use drones to enforce movement restrictions in Spain’s fight against the coronavirus infection

Spain and Portugal have agreed to restrict tourism travel over their shared border, allowing only goods and workers to cross.

Spain imposed a partial lockdown on its 47 million inhabitants on Saturday, as part of a 15-day state of emergency. People are barred from leaving home except for buying essential supplies and medicines, or for work.

It is also considering closing all its borders and expects the 15-day emergency period will be extended.

Portugal has a state of alert, although its confirmed cases of 112 are far below Spain’s 5,753, according to WHO figures.

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Media captionA Venice resident shows us how the city has been completely transformed by the coronavirus

Italy, the worst-affected nation outside China, where the virus originated, has more than 20,000 cases and more than 1,800 deaths.

Prime Minister Guiseppe Conte told Corriere della Sera on Monday that damage from the virus would be “serious and widespread. A true ‘reconstruction plan’ will be needed”.

“After the coronavirus, nothing will be as before, we will have to sit down and rewrite the rules of trade and the free market,” he said.

Renowned Italian architect, Vittorio Gregotti, who helped design the 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympics stadium, has died after contracting the virus, aged 92.

EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen has expressed fears that border closures could strand thousands of lorry drivers at the borders.

“If we don’t act now, stores will have difficulty filling with certain products,” she said, urging the “common internal market [to keep] going”.

In other European nations:

  • The Czech authorities seal off an area in the east of the country – Unicov, Cervenka and Litovel
  • Poland is suspending all domestic flights from Monday, following similar moves on international air and rail travel
  • Switzerland confirms 841 new coronavirus cases, raising the country’s total to 2,200, with a death toll of 14. All schools have been shut, as have ski resorts
  • Serbia declares a state of emergency
  • Ukrainian capital Kyiv shuts restaurants cafes and bars and bans movement to other towns

What is happening in France?

President Emmanuel Macron will discuss the border closures with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday and will address his nation at 19:00 GMT.

France is considering following the lead of Italy and Spain and ordering people to remain in their houses. Cafes, restaurants, cinemas and most shops are already shut.

On Monday, the head of the country’s health service, Jerome Salomon, said the outbreak was “very worrying” and “deteriorating very fast”.

“The number of cases doubles every three days,” he told France Inter.

“I want our citizens to realise that there are people who are sick, who are in intensive care and that [their number] runs into hundreds,” he said.

The government has drawn criticism for proceeding with local elections on Sunday, which saw a record-low turnout.

The country so far has more than 5,000 infections and 127 deaths.


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