Prague – Tailbacks stretching back several kilometres have developed on Czech roads leading to the German border, as new entry bans along Germany’s and south-eastern and southern flanks cause travel disruption and threaten supply chains.
Germany introduces entry bans
On the E55/D8 autobahn connecting Prague with Dresden, lorries were queuing all the way back to Usti nad Labem on Monday morning in a traffic jam stretching 25 kilometres.
On the E50/D5, which leads to the German city of Nuremberg, a queue of lorries initially grew to over 20 kilometres long, according to the motorway administration office and radio traffic news. The situation there eased somewhat later Monday.
On Sunday, Germany launched entry bans at its borders with the Czech Republic and the Austrian region of Tyrol, due to concerns about more infectious coronavirus strains in those areas.
There are exceptions for key workers who have to commute across the borders, including lorry drivers, and for people permanently residing in Germany.
Those people have to register online and present a negative coronavirus test at the border, which must be no older than 48 hours.
By contrast, police reported no traffic congestion in Tyrol in connection with the new restrictions.
Long border queues
The measure had prompted consternation from Austria, with the Foreign Ministry in Vienna summoning Berlin’s ambassador to discuss the issue late Sunday.
“The measures have very severe consequences for the whole of Austria and therefore clearly contradict the lessons learned from last spring,” Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said.
Austria was checking drivers’ documents at the Brenner Pass, which forms that country’s border with Italy, to make sure no one would be rejected at the German-Austrian border further down the line.
North of Verona, traffic was backed up for up to 10 kilometres, according to the operators of the A22 motorway.
Two hundred kilometres further north, traffic was sluggish at the crossing near Vipiteno. Only 40 to 50 vehicles were able to pass each hour, with traffic in the other direction moving at 10 times that rate.
Czech authorities have boosted their testing capacity in border regions in response to the travel ban, using the fire brigade for example to set up an additional testing station at a motorway petrol station.
Around a quarter of lorry drivers did not have the necessary test result with them on Monday morning, fire brigade spokesman Lukas Marvan said, adding that the operation had been made more difficult due to language difficulties in communicating with hauliers from the Balkans.
The Czech Republic forms a key part of the supply chain for many German firms.
The Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA) had warned that the restrictions may cause delivery problems and lead to the closure of German factories from Monday.
But German car giants BMW, Audi and Volkswagen all said production was going ahead unhindered for now, while adding that they are monitoring the situation.
The DSLV, the federal association for logistics in Germany, said it was “extremely troubled” by the new border restrictions.
In a statement released on Monday, it pointed out that online registration and a negative test were needed even for lorry drivers merely passing through regions deemed to be high-risk.
“These hurdles bring with them the threat of border traffic congestion, far-reaching diversions and ultimately disrupted supply chains,” the DSLV said.
The reaction of France and the EU
Clement Beaune, French secretary of state for European affairs, said on Monday he would speak with the premiers of three states that make up France’s border with Germany – Saarland, Rhineland-Palatinate and Baden-Wuerttemberg – to make sure there were no “nasty surprises.”
France is not yet included on Germany’s list of “areas of variant of concern.”
However, the government in Paris last week reported a jump in cases in the border area of Moselle that were linked to the Brazilian and South African coronavirus variants.
A European Commission spokesperson stressed on Monday that the most recent recommendations agreed by the EU states were very clear and should serve as their compass – anything else would lead to fragmentation and disruptions to freedom of movement.
“We expect all member states to follow this coordinated approach on travel restrictions,” Christian Wigand told reporters in Brussels.
Germany’s tougher entry rules are initially to stay in place for 10 days, until February 23, the Interior Ministry said.
They can however be extended for a maximum period of three months.