BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany will begin relaxing from Saturday on some border controls introduced in March to slow the spread of the corona virus with the aim of free travel in Europe from mid-June, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said on Wednesday.
German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer gives a press conference with details of the planned border opening, amid the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) in Berlin, Germany, May 13, 2020. REUTERS / Hannibal Hanschke / Pool
The tentative step, partly aimed at helping the tourism sector, comes as the European Commission prepares to urge a return to “unlimited free movement”, although the push will stop if there is a second wave of major infections.
Germany introduced locking in mid-March, the start of the outbreak, and has managed to keep the mortality rate per capita relatively low compared to many of its European neighbors.
Seehofer said that the border controls agreed with France, Switzerland and Austria which would expire on May 15 would be extended to June 15, but as many crossings as possible would be reopened and systematic checks would provide a way to check.
“The aim is that from mid-June we want to have free travel in Europe,” he said, adding that control could be re-applied if there was a new outbreak.
Earlier, Austria said its border with Germany would be fully reopened in a month. The Alpine country has lobbied Germany hard to reopen its borders, not least to boost the important tourism industry.
Germany’s border with Luxembourg can be fully opened and Seehofer said he is also ready to reopen the crossing to Denmark from May 15 but no official agreement has yet been reached.
Control on the EU’s external borders will remain until June 15, Seehofer said, adding it was too early to ease control with Italy and that he would have major problems allowing travel to the United States. Both are more difficult in a crisis.
However, he said he could imagine that people in safe parts of China could reenter Germany after June 15.
In an indication of a pandemic victim in the travel sector, TUI tour operators said earlier that they needed to reduce the fixed cost base by 30% and cut thousands of jobs in response to the crisis.
Reporting by Michelle Martin and Thomas Escritt and Francois Murphy in Vienna; Writing by Madeline Chambers
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