German interior minister Horst Seehofer holds a news conference on closing its borders with Austria, Switzerland, France, Luxembourg and Denmark from Monday in Berlin, Germany, March 15 2020. Picture: REUTERS/ANNEGRET HLSE
German interior minister Horst Seehofer holds a news conference on closing its borders with Austria, Switzerland, France, Luxembourg and Denmark from Monday in Berlin, Germany, March 15 2020. Picture: REUTERS/ANNEGRET HLSE

Berlin — Germany will reintroduce border controls with France, Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg and Denmark from Monday morning due to the coronavirus crisis, interior minister Horst Seehofer said Sunday.

“The spread of the coronavirus is progressing quickly and aggressively ... one of the most important measures will be to cut off the chain of infection,” Seehofer told reporters as he announced the new border controls.

The measures will take effect at 8.00am on Monday, with goods and cross-border commuters exempt.

German citizens and people with a residency permit will be allowed to return to the country.

People “without a significant reason to travel” and those suspected of having been infected with the virus will not be allowed to cross the affected borders, he said.

Seehofer stressed the new controls would be temporary, and would be reassessed “from time to time”.

But the high point of the coronavirus crisis had not yet been reached, he warned, urging citizens to avoid social contact.

The decision had been taken after the Robert Koch Institute, which is responsible for public health in Germany, had declared that the French border region of Alsace-Lorraine as a risk area.

“This sparked a lot of questions and unrest in the neighbouring states,” he said.

Seehofer also said the government's coronavirus crisis committee would discuss Washington's effort to persuade  German company CureVac to move its coronavirus vaccine  research to the US. 

 German politicians are insisting  no country should have a monopoly on any future vaccine.

The Welt am Sonntag German newspaper reported that US President Donald Trump had offered funds to lure CureVac to the US, and the German government was making counter-offers to tempt it to stay.

CureVac issued a statement on Sunday, in which it said: “The company rejects current rumours of an acquisition.”

In other developments:

• Kenya unveiled a series of strict measures to curb coronavirus on Sunday, blocking entry to the country to all except citizens and other residents and shutting schools as the number of confirmed cases rose to three. In an address to the nation, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said  only Kenyan citizens and foreigners with valid resident permits would be allowed to enter the country. Kenyatta said the new measures would come into effect in the next 48 hours and remain in place for 14 days.

• The EU on Sunday imposed restrictions on exports of masks and other protective medical equipment as it seeks to ensure its own supplies for the fight against the coronavirus epidemic. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen also warned that EU countries imposing border checks were threatening supply chains and increasing the risks of shortages. The restrictions apply to a range of equipment including masks, as well as protective glasses and visors, face shields, mouth-nose protection and protective garments.

• The Dutch government on Sunday ordered the closing of all schools, bars, restaurants, adult clubs and cannabis cafes from Monday. The announcement comes as the official death toll from the Covid disease climbed to 20 with 1,135 infections in the Netherlands, and political pressure built on Dutch authorities to follow the same route as neighbouring Belgium.

• Swiss officials urged people not to be afraid as cases of Covid-19 surged on Sunday and drastic measures to halt the spread of the virus took hold. “We must not give in to fear,” Health Minister Alain Berset told NZZ am Sonntag newspaper, calling on people  to stay calm and pull together. Infections jumped on Sunday by nearly 1,000 cases in 24 hours to 2,200 and 14 deaths were recorded from the virus across the country. On Friday, the government closed schools and banned public gatherings of more than 100 people and the army said it was preparing to help overstretched hospitals.

•  Italy on Sunday recorded its biggest daily death toll from the novel coronavirus, which has now claimed over 6,000 lives worldwide, forcing European governments to further tighten controls. The number of fatalities in Italy shot up by 368 to 1,809 — more than half of all the cases recorded outside China. The Vatican took the drastic step of cancelling Easter week celebrations as northern Italian leaders warned they were running out of beds and artificial respirators. Pope Francis left Vatican City on Sunday “on foot, as if on a pilgrimage” to pray in one of Rome's cathedrals for victims of the coronavirus pandemic, the Vatican said.

• Egypt gave small and medium-sized businesses a six-month extension for credit repayments and cancelled ATM withdrawal fees for the same period, as the North African nation looks to protect the economy from the effects of the coronavirus. The central bank also increased the daily withdrawal limits for credit and debit cards, and said lenders will “immediately” provide financing for the import of key commodities. Egypt’s government announced Saturday it had allocated 100-billion pounds ($6.4bn) to combat the virus outbreak, without saying what the funding would involve.

• American Airlines said will slash long-haul international flights by 75% — the biggest reductions to date by a US-based carrier — because of the collapse in travel demand and government restrictions imposed to slow the spread of coronavirus. American will cut service starting Monday through to May 6. The airline will continue to operate one flight daily from Dallas-Fort Worth to London, one daily from Miami to London and three weekly flights from Dallas-Fort Worth to Tokyo. Delta Air Lines Inc. also further trimmed international flights Sunday.

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