Germany will shut border with Austria and Czech Republic in bid to keep out UK mutant Covid variant 

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Germany will shut its borders with Austria and the Czech Republic from Sunday in a bid to keep out the more infectious mutated UK variant of Covid-19.

The country's southern state of Bavaria, which borders with Austria and the Czech Republic, has already detected variants of the virus in more than 10 percent of confirmed COVID cases, about twice the national average. 

People from neighbouring Czech Republic and the Austrian region of Tyrol will be banned from Sunday, with some exceptions. 

Those who are allowed to enter Germany, including German residents and medical workers, will have to present negative COVID tests at the border. 

Germany believes that the strain is largely entering across its border with the Czech Republic, which has recorded 483 new infections for every 100,000 people.

By comparison, Germany is recording 62 infections per 100,000 people.

Germany will shut its borders with Austria and the Czech Republic from Sunday in a bid to keep out the more infectious mutated UK variant of Covid-19. Pictured: German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends a meeting of the German federal parliament, Bundestag, at the Reichstag building in Berlin, Germany, Thursday, February 11

It is also concerned with the Austrian region of Tyrol, where over 430 cases of the South African variant have been registered. 

The region is partially sealed off by the Austrian government for 10 days, with residents only allowed to leave if they can show a negative test. 

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said German Chancellor Angela Merkel had already agreed to designate Tyrol and parts of the Czech Republic as 'virus mutation zones' - like South Africa and Britain - The Times reported on Saturday.

'We can't close every show shop in Germany and at the same time allow the unrestricted entry of virus variants from other countries,' the newspaper quoted him as telling The Süddeutsche Zeitung, a German newspaper based in Munich.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 8,354 to 2,328,447, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Saturday. The reported death toll rose by 556 to 64,191, the tally showed.  

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 8,354 to 2,328,447, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Saturday. The reported death toll rose by 556 to 64,191, the tally showed

Merkel pushed back Friday against critics of the country's slow COVID-19 vaccine rollout, saying vast vaccination centers set up last year will be full to capacity by April.

In an interview with public broadcaster ZDF, Merkel acknowledged that there was 'disappointment' at the slow start, but insisted that it was surprising there even was a vaccine just one year after the virus was first discovered.

'That's a huge achievement that nobody could have expected,' she said. 'And then we didn't point out clearly enough that there wouldn't be enough vaccines for everybody at the start.'

Germany began vaccinating older people in December and has so far administered some 3.8 million shots. But the vast inoculation centers set up in exhibition halls and sports arenas have seen few patients, as many of the shots were given to people in nursing homes or hospitals.

The government has said that deliveries of the three vaccines already approved will be ramped up in coming weeks, and by Easter all people in the highest priority group will have been offered a shot.

'These centers will be at full capacity at the end of March, April,' said Merkel. 'We will struggle to administer all (the vaccines) then, but in the first weeks there's a shortage and some people may have expected differently.'

Pictured: A car driver is checked on February 12, 2021 at the Austrian-German border in Kufstein in Austria's Tyrol region, amid the COVID-19 pandemic

She rejected claims that the European Union had been stingy when it came to ordering vaccines last year, saying the much faster rollout in Britain and the United States 'wasn't a question of money.'

Some of the frustration in Germany has been due to the fact that the first vaccine, made by German company BioNTech and its U.S. partner Pfizer, wasn't authorized in the EU until weeks after it got the green light in Britain and America. 

A second German company, CureVac, on Friday announced that it has requested a rolling review of data for its vaccine with the European Medicines Agency with a view to swift authorization.

Germans have also been irked by widespread accounts of people jumping the vaccine queue. 

On Friday, the term `Impfdraengler' - German for someone who pushes past others to get a vaccine - was trending on social media after reports that hospitals chiefs, local politicians and even the Catholic bishop of Augsburg got their shots ahead of doctors and nurses.

Germany's health minister, Jens Spahn, told reporters that the government would discuss with parliament 'whether sanctions in this area could make sense.'

Patient rights campaigners warned Spahn last year that Germany's complicated vaccination system could open the door to corruption and queue-jumping, but the health ministry had rebuffed repeated calls for criminal penalties.

Pictured: A healthcare worker receives an injection with the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine at the university hospital in Halle/Saale, eastern Germany, on February 12, 2021

In her interview with ZDF, Merkel voiced regret at having been too cautious in requiring face masks during the early stage of the pandemic last year, and then hesitating to impose a second lockdown when infection numbers rose again after the summer.

'In hindsight we were of course too hesitant in the fall,' she said. 'I didn't have a good feeling at the time, but I supported the decision (to delay the lockdown).'

Merkel and the governors of Germany's 16 states agreed Wednesday to extend the current closure of stores and most public institutions until March 7, though schools and hairdressers will be able to open sooner.

The 7-day rolling average of daily new confirmed cases in Germany sank over the past two weeks, going from almost 15 new cases per 100,000 people on January 28 to fewer than 10 new cases per 100,000 people on February 11.

With a new, highly contagious coronavirus variant gaining force, the already hard-hit Czech Republic was in chaos on Friday after lawmakers deprived the government of a powerful tool to tackle the pandemic.

The lower house of Czech Parliament late Thursday refused the minority government's request to extend a state of emergency, a measure that gives Cabinet powers to impose and keep in place strict nationwide restrictive measures and limit individual rights.

Ministers have warned the move will further worsen the situation and might cause the struggling health system to collapse.

Opposition parties say the current lockdown isn't working and accused Prime Minister Andrej Babis' government of not doing enough for businesses and others affected by restrictions.

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis wearing a face mask talks during the press conference with Serbian Prime Minister Brnabic after their meeting in Belgrade, Serbia, 10 February 2021

They also complained that the government has been refusing to take seriously their proposals to deal with the pandemic, and insisted schools should reopen.

The current state of emergency will expire on Sunday night after 132 days. The government can use other legal options to reimpose some measures but not all of them.

'We will immediately apply all those remaining options we have,' Health Minister Jan Blatny said. '(But) they're not as effective' as powers under the state of emergency.

As a result, bars, restaurants and cafes can possibly reopen Monday while the night-time curfew and a ban on gatherings of more than two people will be canceled.

The end of the state of emergency might also limit use of military medical personnel in civilian hospitals, and firefighters helping distribute protective gear and other equipment across the country.

The government is scheduled to discuss the crisis later Friday and meet the heads of 14 regional governments who could declare a state of danger in their region to be able to reimpose some restrictions.

Pictured: Members of the medical staff transfer a patient suffering from coronavirus disease (COVID-19) from a fully occupied Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of the Nachod hospital, Czech Republic February 11, 2021

Some of the regional leaders suggested they would like ask the government to declare the state of emergency again.

If they do so 'the government would likely agree to do it,' Interior Minister Jan Hamacek told the Czech public television on Friday.

Such a step would likely face a legal challenge.

Meanwhile on Friday, almost 600 police officers were deployed to enforce a complete lockdown of the three hardest-hit counties on the border with Germany and Poland, to help contain a fast-spreading variant of the coronavirus initially identified in Britain.

The area's residents are barred from leaving and outsiders cannot travel there, with certain exceptions such as for work.

Local hospitals have reached their limits and COVID-19 patients have to be transported to hospitals in other parts of the Czech Republic.

The Czech Republic, a nation of 10.7 million, has had more than 1 million confirmed cases, with 17,902 deaths. Pictured: Graphs showing the rolling 7-day-average coronavirus cases and deaths in the Czech Republic

Of the 120 patients in one of the hospitals in Cheb, 90 currently have COVID-19, and it cannot admit more, hospital director Martin Krusina told The Associated Press.

About 25 people die each month on average in his clinic, but it was 87 in January, he said.

In reaction to the surge across the border, Germany decided to temporarily reinstate border controls with the Czech Republic and Austria on Sunday due to their high number of variant coronavirus cases.

The Czech Republic, a nation of 10.7 million, has had more than 1 million confirmed cases, with 17,902 deaths

According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, its rate of 915 new confirmed cases per 100,000 people in the past two weeks is the second worst in the EU after Portugal.

The day-to-day increase of cases in the Czech Republic was 8,916 on Thursday, a number similar to that recorded in neighboring Germany whose population is more than eight times as big.

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