BERLIN: Germany will close its borders with France, Austria and Switzerland from Monday morning due to the coronavirus crisis, a government source told AFP on Sunday (Mar 15), confirming a report in German media.
The popular tabloid Bild had reported that the closures would take effect at 8.00am (0700 GMT) on Monday, and claimed that goods and cross-border commuters would be exempt.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and Interior Minister Horst Seehofer met with state premiers from affected German regions on Sunday to agree the closures, the newspaper claimed.
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The politicians aimed not only to slow the spread of the coronavirus, but also to curtail cross-border panic-buying, the report added.
Seehofer is set to hold a press conference on the decision later on Sunday.
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Paris, meanwhile, said the decision had been taken in coordination with the French government.
Yet the French interior ministry also insisted that the border would not be fully closed.
“We are going to limit border crossings to the strict minimum, while allowing people and merchandise to go through. It’s not a closure,” a ministry source told AFP.
While the German measures currently only apply to three countries, other neighbouring countries such as Poland, the Czech Republic and Denmark have also closed their borders or introduced severe restrictions.
Germany had until now resisted closing its borders so as not to endanger the Schengen agreement, which guarantees free travel between European countries and has already been put under strain in recent years by the migrant crisis and the threat of jihadist terrorism.
But with Europe now considered to be the epicentre of the pandemic, calls to close the border with France had begun to emerge shortly before Sunday’s decision.
“The spread of the virus has to be slowed. The basic rule should be: anyone who doesn’t urgently need to cross the border should not cross the border,” said Thomas Strobl, interior minister of Baden-Wuerttemberg state, which borders France and Switzerland.
Germany is one of the countries worst hit by the coronavirus pandemic, with 3,795 confirmed infections on Saturday.
The latest official nationwide figures state that eight people have died due to the virus in Germany, though two further deaths were reported in Bavaria on Sunday.