German entry bans extended as authorities chase British variant cases

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A poster calling on more hand washing instead of purchasing masks is seen at a pharmacy in Berlin, capital of Germany, March 3, 2020. Germany's confirmed cases of COVID-19 have increased to 188 on Tuesday from 150 a day earlier, according to Robert Koch Institute (RKI), a federal government agency and research institute responsible for disease control and prevention. (Xinhua/Shan Yuqi)
A poster calling on more hand washing instead of purchasing masks is seen at a pharmacy in Berlin, capital of Germany, March 3, 2020. Germany's confirmed cases of COVID-19 have increased to 188 on Tuesday from 150 a day earlier, according to Robert Koch Institute (RKI), a federal government agency and research institute responsible for disease control and prevention. (Xinhua/Shan Yuqi)

dpa/GNA – Border checks banning almost all people from entering Germany from over a dozen places flagged due to coronavirus variants, have been extended until next month, as isolated cases fuel concerns that the British mutation is spreading further in the country.

The entry bans, which made headlines in recent days due to travel chaos at the border with the Czech Republic, had initially been set to stay in place until February 17.

Cabinet ministers agreed on Tuesday to extend the rules until March 3.

The bans affect countries and regions placed on the government’s list of “areas of variant of concern.”

Only German nationals and residents can enter from those places, with exceptions also for some key workers and logistics.

Countries such as Britain, South Africa and Portugal are on the list. The Czech Republic and the Austrian region of Tyrol were added at the weekend.

The British strain of the coronavirus – or B117 – is one of three variants of concern that have been identified within Germany by the country’s agency for disease control, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI).

Earlier this month, RKI president Lothar Wieler reported that the B117 variant had been found in 13 of Germany’s 16 states and made up just under 6 per cent of cases – although he warned that that figure would likely rise further.

The German government recently boosted resources to laboratories for sequencing work, in order to get a clearer picture of the spread of coronavirus variants in the country.

On Monday, a Bulgarian man who had been working on a construction site in the western city of Hamm was found to be infected with the British strain, which is considered more infectious.

Up to 80 people living in four residential buildings were placed under quarantine as a result, with the help of a major police deployment, local authorities said on Tuesday, amending earlier figures.

The construction worker is isolating at home together with his wife and other family members.

Mobile teams have been sent to the four sealed-off residential buildings, which are dotted around the city, to test as many people there as possible as well as individuals they have had contact with.

Head of the operation, Detlef Burrichter, said 78 PCR tests had already been carried out by late Monday, adding that sequencing must now be conducted in order to identify the strain of any possible infections.

In Osnabrueck, a city about 100 kilometres north of Hamm, 210 people tested positive for the coronavirus in connection with an outbreak at an ice cream factory, a spokesman for the local authority said on Tuesday.

The plant, which has been closed since the weekend and disinfected by a specialist, employs around 600 people, all of whom – including the management – are in quarantine.

Of those infected, two people are said to have caught the B117 variant.

The Osnabrueck city spokesman said the local health authority was working to follow possible chains of infection.
The source of the outbreak remains unclear.

According to Froneri, the operator of the site, it is one of Europe’s largest facilities for producing ice cream.

The interior minister of the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia, Herbert Reul, also tested positive for the British variant, government sources said on Tuesday.

Reul was doing well and in quarantine, and colleagues he had been in contact with were isolating as well.

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