Germany considers strict new Covid restrictions on international travel

Angela Merkel is said to fear that new virus mutations could cause an explosion in cases - AFP
Angela Merkel is said to fear that new virus mutations could cause an explosion in cases - AFP

The German government is to consider introducing tough new restrictions on international travel in a bid to prevent coronavirus mutations from entering the country, a senior minister said on Tuesday.

The measures include strict border controls and closing Germany's airports to almost all passenger flights.

"The danger posed by the numerous virus mutations requires us to consider and discuss drastic measures," Horst Seehofer, the interior minister, told Bild newspaper.

"This includes much stricter border controls, especially at the borders to high-risk areas, and the reduction of air traffic to Germany to almost zero, as Israel is currently implementing to prevent the introduction of the virus mutations."

The driving force behind the proposed new measures is believed to be Angela Merkel, the chancellor, who has been pushing for a complete travel ban according to leaked details of government discussions.

Despite a steady fall in new infections in Germany over the last two weeks, Mrs Merkel is said to be convinced that the new mutations could cause an explosion in cases.

Germany is already closed to tourism, with hotels and holiday apartments not allowed to accept tourists and entry to the country is limited to European Union citizens and residents, but the chancellor is believed to be more concerned by the risk from Germans returning from trips abroad.

"I have asked the question a hundred times – why can't we ban travel? I always get the answer that we're a free country," she reportedly told party colleagues in a secret videoconference call at the weekend. "You can only make traveling unattractive, for example through quarantine... We have to thin out air traffic so that there is nowhere to go."

Mrs Merkel is believed to have asked Mr Seehofer to prepare a series of options to restrict international travel over the weekend. Among the proposals reportedly being considered are compulsory quarantine and outright entry bans for those arriving from infection hotspots.

But a proposal to close German airports to almost all passenger flights is likely to attract the most controversy. Lufthansa, which last year required a €9 billion (£8 billion) bailout from the German taxpayer to stay afloat could be left facing severe new losses.

Israel has already begun implementing a ban on almost all passenger flights at its airports to keep the virus out – a measure that appears tailor-made for the country, which has tightly controlled borders and is largely connected to the outside world by air.

It is debatable whether it could be as effective for Germany, with its long open borders at the heart of the Schengen Area.