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Germany’s southernmost state is threatening to close its border with Tirol, as the Austrian region says it wants to relax lockdown restrictions in spite of an outbreak of the South African Covid-19 variant.
Authorities in Tirol, an Alpine state containing several ski resorts popular with tourists, said on Monday morning it had so far detected 165 fully sequenced cases of people being infected with the South African variant, known as B1351. A further 112 suspected cases were being investigated, said Tirol’s governor, Günther Platter.
The South African variant is causing increasing concern among scientists and politicians, with trial data in South Africa suggesting it may be more resilient against some vaccines and could complicate governments’ plans for vaccine-led herd immunity in the near future.
Nonetheless, Tirolean politicians said over the weekend they wanted to relax lockdown restrictions in line with the rest of Austria, where schools, shops, museums and hairdressers will reopen from Monday.
“We’ll reopen from tomorrow,” Christoph Walser, the head of the Tirolean chamber of commerce, told the broadcaster ORF on Sunday. Platter has resisted calls to impose a quarantine on his region, saying the measures would amount to punishing the state for being more diligent in tracking down Covid mutations than others.
Instead of a state-wide lockdown, Platter on Monday proposed a catalogue of measures to contain the spread of the South African variant, including stricter border controls and a ramped-up testing regime.
Talks between authorities in Tirol and Austria’s national government were ongoing on Monday morning.
GDP in Austria, where some regions’ economies are heavily reliant on tourism, dropped 7.8% in the fourth quarter of 2020, the sharpest decline in the EU apart from Spain.
In the spring of 2020 Tirol became the subject of international ire after Covid outbreaks in northern Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Iceland were traced back to skiers returning home from the Paznaun valley, and local authorities were accused of having prioritised the local economy over health concerns.
North of the border, in the German state of Bavaria, politicians have already rushed to criticise their southern neighbour’s handling of the South African variant.
Markus Blume, the general secretary of the state’s governing Christian Social Union (CSU) party, proposed sealing off the border to Tirol and the Czech Republic if there were signs that viral mutations spreading in those states could endanger Germany’s own effort to contain the pandemic.
“Quick action is required now,” said Blume. “Once the mutation has spread here it is too late.”
Bavaria’s interior minister, Joachim Herrmann, told the Münchner Merkur newspaper he supported tighter borders with Austria and said borders between the Czech Republic and Austria should be very closely monitored.
Bavaria has implemented some of the strictest lockdown rules in Germany, with shopping tours and skiing trips to neighbouring countries prohibited.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Bavaria threatens to close Austria border if Tirol eases Covid rules | World news