Thousands of German police plan to hunt out lockdown breakers

·2-min read

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany plans to deploy thousands of federal police officers across the country to enforce toughened coronavirus restrictions from Monday, including the closure of restaurants and bars, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said on Thursday.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and Germany's state leaders agreed on Wednesday to an emergency month-long lockdown that includes closing restaurants, gyms and theatres to reverse a spike in coronavirus cases that risks overwhelming hospitals.

"Running checks will be crucial to ensure the success of the new measures," Seehofer said. "In coordination with the states, federal police will deploy thousands of officers."

Heightened checks could be unpopular in a country wary of state surveillance after the experience of Communist East Germany and Hitler's Nazis.

The western city of Essen has provoked criticism from opposition politicians for trying to recruit residents to report other citizens who do not comply with coronavirus restrictions, a method seen by some as a reminder of the Nazi past.

On its homepage, Essen provides an online form for people to fill in their complaints over violations of the rules, including the possibility to upload pictures.

Seehofer said federal police would first be used in big cities and areas most severely hit by the pandemic.

Officers would also run increased checks at airports, railway stations and close to the borders to ensure people entering the country from high-risk regions observe the rules.

In Germany, responsibility for the police mainly lies with the 16 states. The roughly 40,000 officers of the federal police are in charge of border security, but can also support state police if necessary.

Even before the new measures were announced, the capital Berlin had enlisted the help of 500 federal police officers to tackle illegal parties and gatherings that local police failed to bring under control.

(Reporting by Sabine Siebold; Editing by Paul Carrel and David Gregorio)