EU orders six countries to relax border restrictions for 'going too far'

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Vehicles wait at a checkpoint of the Federal Police at the German-Czech border near Breitenau, eastern Germany on February 14, 2021. - Germany implemented more measures to keep coronavirus variants at bay, banning travel from Czech border regions and Austria's Tyrol after a troubling surge in contagious mutations. (Photo by JENS SCHLUETER / AFP) (Photo by JENS SCHLUETER/AFP via Getty Images)
Vehicles wait at a checkpoint of the Federal Police at the German-Czech border near Breitenau, eastern Germany on February 14, 2021. (AFP via Getty Images)

The EU has told six countries to ease their border restrictions brought in to prevent the spread of COVID-19 with one official saying they have “gone too far”.

At least nine EU countries have reinstated border controls in what is normally a zone of free travel over the last few weeks.

It comes amid the threat of more contagious coronavirus mutations spreading through the region.

Long lines of trucks have formed on the Czech-German frontier this month as the restrictions prompted travel mayhem within the bloc.

Read: Prince Philip being treated for infection, Buckingham Palace confirms

But the European Commission is now seeking to push through a more co-ordinated approach to managing the movement of goods of people.

The EU’s Justice Commissioner, Didier Reynders, said on Tuesday that it had given Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Hungary and Sweden 10 days to justify their border restrictions.

It is focussing on these six countries rather than all nine because they have brought in particularly stringent restrictions on movement.

Belgium, for example, has brought in a complete ban on non-essential trips in and out of the country.

Reynders said such curbs had “gone too far” adding: "It is a necessity to go back to a co-ordinated approach to all the measures taken in relations with the free movement of people and goods in the European Union.”

Europe ministers on Tuesday discussed the health, border and travel issues via video-link.

Watch: Long lines of trucks on German-Czech border

A European Commission spokesman also said: “We risk fragmentation and disruptions to free movement and to supply chains - something we have witnessed again the past weeks," without a co-ordinated approach involving all 27 nations.

Cases in the bloc remain high

Cases in the bloc have been steadily falling since the first week of January this year.

However, infection rates still remain high mid-February, hampering countries like France and Germany’s efforts to lift coronavirus infections.

As of the week of 18 February, France reported the highest number of new cases with more than 3,465,000.

This was followed by Spain (3,086, 286), Italy (2,721,879), Germany (2,338 987), and Poland (1,591,497), according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

Meanwhile, Slovakia, which tested its entire population in October and fared well during the first wave, now has the highest death rate in the world.

Several countries in Eastern Europe are also facing widespread anti-vaccine movements, which could threaten their recovery from the pandemic.

The persistently high cases in Europe are also partly being blamed on the new variant first identified in the south-east of England, which has been found to be 70% more transmissible.

Germany defends border controls

Germany - which introduced checks on its frontiers with the Czech Republic and Austria earlier this year - has been in talks with France on averting similar measures in the Moselle region that straddles the Franco-German border.

The French part of the region, which also stretches into Luxembourg, has experienced a surge in a more easily transmissible coronavirus variant.

Michael Roth, Europe minister for Germany, has defended Berlin's actions.

Prior to the talks with his EU counterparts, he said: "These measures obviously put a massive strain on border regions... but the protection of our citizens is paramount."

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His French peer, Clement Beaune, told Reuters that Berlin and Paris had given themselves 48 hours to co-ordinate health measures.

This includes increased testing in the Moselle region to try to keep that part of the border open to workers.

The move comes as French president Emmanuel Macron has consistently advocated that internal borders between EU countries remain open.

He clashed with Germany last year after Berlin closed the frontiers during the first wave of the pandemic.

Germany now aims to avoid the kinds of strict border measures that were in place in 2020, sources in Berlin said.

Watch: Food exports to EU slumped by as much as 60% in January, MPs told

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