Germany set to test all travellers from Covid-19 hotspots

Countrywide measures follow Bavaria’s move to test at stations, airports and borders

Germany is to introduce obligatory testing for all travellers returning from regions considered to be coronavirus high risk hotspots, its health minister has said.

Jens Spahn said he would introduce mandatory testing as soon as legislation was in place to do so. The move has broad cross-party support amid a rise in Germany’s own coronavirus rates, which have been at least in part put down to hundreds of thousands of Germans returning from foreign holidays.

Currently 130 regions are on Germany’s list of high risk areas.

Earlier on Monday, the state of Bavaria spearheaded the mass rollout of coronavirus testing facilities in the hope of reaching as many returning holidaymakers as possible.

Airports, railway stations and main border crossings used by car travellers are to be kitted out with mobile testing units, Markus Söder, the leader of the southern state, announced on Monday morning.

Hundreds of thousands of seasonal workers employed on farms across the state will also be offered tests after a significant outbreak at a vegetable plantation in eastern Bavaria.

Particular attention will be paid to people returning from 130 areas considered high risk by the government’s public health advisers. The number has risen from 100 regions last week, reflecting the global spread of the outbreak in recent days.

In Bavaria, Söder has also increased fines for employers who contravene coronavirus health and safety regulations from €5,000 to €25,000 (£4,500-£22,700) in an effort to stem the spread of the virus.

Testing in the state will initially be voluntary and free of charge to the person being tested, Söder said. But he added: “We need the federal government to ensure this becomes obligatory. And this needs to happen as quickly as possible.”

There is growing political consensus across the parties that obligatory testing makes increasing sense amid a surge in the number of cases of the virus both at home and abroad.

Helge Braun, chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff, has said he will be looking into the legal requirements in conjunction with Spahn.

The leader of the pro-business FDP, Christian Lindner, said people should be expected to pay for their own tests.

So far the German government is not considering a blanket quarantine requirement for returnees from Spain, as was introduced by the UK government for its citizens at the weekend.

The northern state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, highly dependent on tourism, has said it is examining the possibility of introducing stricter quarantine rules for those returning from areas considered high risk. Manuela Schwesig, the state leader, said anyone wishing to avoid a two-week quarantine would have to present health authorities with two negative coronavirus test results. Her government is expected to make an announcement tomorrow.

Bavaria is taking a particularly cautious approach because it has so far been one of the hardest hit regions in Germany. Its schools broke up for their six-week summer break on Friday, so many of its 13 million citizens will be travelling further afield at a crucial time. Bavaria is also a popular tourist destination and heavily dependent on agriculture. Harvest workers are considered particularly vulnerable to the disease.

“Corona is creeping back,” Söder said on Monday morning, “and unfortunately with all its might. Caution must be our top priority.”

Over the weekend, 5,000 people were placed under quarantine in Mamming, eastern Bavaria, after 170 harvest workers on a vegetable farm were tested positive for coronavirus.

In neighbouring Austria at the Wolfgangsee, a popular lakeside resort frequented by German tourists, authorities were tackling an outbreak of 53 cases thought to have been spread by young hotel staff, who were reportedly living in close quarters. Seven hotels, a pizzeria and two bars in St Wolfgang, the main town, are affected and have had to close.

Germany has about 6,100 active cases of the virus. The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) has expressed its concern in recent days that the number of cases was growing. However, in the last 24 hours no one in Germany died from the disease, the RKI said on Monday morning.

At the peak of the pandemic in mid-March, Germany was reporting about 5,500 new cases a day. That number has fallen steadily to a few hundred a day – about 300-400 – over the past few weeks.

On Friday, the RKI said it was “greatly concerned” at the growth in the number of cases, reporting 815 new cases on that day, compared with 583 on 17 July, and 395 the week before that. It issued an appeal to the public to stick to the required rules of physical distancing, wearing a face cover, washing hands and airing rooms.


Kate Connolly in Berlin

The GuardianTramp

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