Outrage over Emiratesâ€™ Rapid Antigen Test - THISDAY
BY Chinedu Eze
Last week Emirates Airlines had a spat with the federal government over its plan to introduce COVID-19 Rapid Antigen Test (RDT) for passengers to be administered four hours before take-off of their flight.
The federal government in response banned and unbanned the airline within 24 hours and since then Emirates has cancelled all its Lagos-Dubai and Abuja-Dubai flights with no indication of when the cancellation would end.
This antigen test was in addition to the PTF-COVID-19 approved 72 hours coronavirus test for international passengers leaving the country.
Emirates made it known in statement that it would embark on RDT test from February 1, 2021 for all its Nigerian passengers to Dubai and at the same time announced that there would be no more transit passengers to Dubai by other airlines.
The airline said it was submitting to the directive of the UAE authorities that decisively wished to ensure that nobody with COVID-19 case is allowed into the country.
But on February 4, 2021, the federal government through the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) banned the airlines outbound flights and allowed its inbound flights, giving it 72 hours to rescind its decision on RDT tests on passengers leaving the country.
Government argued that the airline would not embark on such test until Nigeria was able to provide the necessary infrastructure for the test to take place.
But NCAA later issued another statement, indicating that Emirates had accepted to drop the RDT test, which prompted the regulatory authority to lift the ban.
But since the ban was lifted, Emirates has cancelled all its flights from Lagos and Abuja to Dubai and it issued a statement to that effect, saying that the cancellation would continue till further notice; thus indicating that it does not know when it would start airlifting Nigerians to Dubai.
President of the National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA), Susan Akporiaye told THISDAY that in as much as Emirates wanted to prevent travellers with COVID-19 cases from getting into Dubai, it also wanted to use that opportunity to cut down competition from other airlines. She said Emirates is an airline known for its professionalism, noting that the idea of RDT was not well thought out by the airline before its implementation.
â€œIf you look at that decision, you might want to say that they are using it to take care of their competitors. Because I have information that some other airlines have approached the UAE authorities and demanded to also conduct the antigen test.
â€œFor instance, I spoke to the country manager of Ethiopian Airlines, and I was told that they approached the UAE government and requested they be allowed to conduct the same antigen process at Addis Ababa, but they said no, totally stopping them. It is the same with Egypt Air. â€œSo, the airline made it look as if they are using this COVID-19 to get rid of their competitors, although I donâ€™t want to believe that is the case. But if you look at the indices, thatâ€™s the way it looks like, because if thatâ€™s not the case, then you shouldnâ€™t stop other airlines from conducting the antigen test,â€ she said.
She also noted that by cancelling its flights after the federal government had lifted the ban against the airline, Emirates made Nigerian government to blink first and now wants to have the last laugh. However, travel expert and organiser of Akwaaba African Travel Market, Ikechi Uko, noted that Emirates and the UAE authorities really wanted to ensure that there were no more COVID-19 cases in Dubai and had taken such drastic measure with RDT.
Uko remarked that Emirates had good intentions but its approach was wrong and that was why the federal government misunderstood its intentions, seeing it as a strategy to dominate the market.
â€œThere is trouble in Dubai on issues concerning COVID-19 and that was why the UAE authorities took that measure, but the way Emirates approached the matter to Nigeria made the federal government misinterpret the airlineâ€™s intentions. UAE has the right to carry out its COVID-19 protocols but they cannot determine for Nigeria how she would carry out its own protocol,â€ Uko said.
THISDAY learnt that the European Union has also banned Emirates from bringing in-bound passengers to destinations in the region, while UK authorities allowed the airline to take outbound passengers but banned it from bringing passengers to the country.
But spokesman of NCAA, Sam Adurogboye told THISDAY that Emirates perceived aloofness is because Nigeria does not have strong and big airlines that could compete effectively with it on the Nigerian route; that if Nigeria has a national carrier or if the existing airlines grow big and strong to compete effectively with foreign carriers, Emirates would not so dominate the market. â€œBut they cannot afford to ignore Nigeria for long because I know the millions of dollars they make from our country,â€ Adurogboye said.
United Nigeria Airlines Secures AOC from NCAA - THISDAY
Stories by Chinedu Eze The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has issued the United Nigeria Airlines an Air Operators Certificate (AOC) with number UNA/AOC/01-21/961, after meeting the requirements as stated in the Nigerian Civil Aviation Regulations.
The AOC would be valid till January 31, 2023, when it would be expected the airline would renew it. With this, the new indigenous carrier is set to commence operations.
The airline is one of the few airlines on the line to secure AOC after the regulatory authority has adjudged them worthy and after meeting the stringent criteria, which include demonstration flights for several hours. AOC is a document issued by NCAA to show approval for an airline to commence flight services in Nigeria.
United Nigeria Airlines has earlier indicated that it would make Enugu its operational hub. The document which was issued February 1, 2021 and signed by the Director General NCAA read,â€ This certificate certifies that United Nigeria Airlines Company Limited has been approved to perform commercial air operations, as defined in the attached operations.â€
In January, United Nigeria Airlines carried out demonstration flights to show readiness to operate from Lagos to Enugu, Owerri and some other airports with its Embraer E145s.
The new airline has also indicated that it would operate domestic flights from Enugu-Abuja-Enugu, Owerri-Abuja-Owerri, Enugu-Lagos-Enugu, Owerri-Lagos-Owerri, Abuja-Asaba-Abuja, Port Harcourt-Lagos-Port Harcourt, Port Harcourt-Abuja-Port Harcourt.
Despite the devastation of COVID-19 and subsequent gloomy air travel market, some entrepreneurs are still investing in airline business, looking at the future.
Industry observers while congratulating the airline, pointed out that the air travel market is tepid and therefore needs good strategy and resilience to survive.
Etihad Crew to be Vaccinated Before Flying - THISDAY
tihad Airways has claimed that it will be the worldâ€™s first airline with 100 per cent of its operating pilots and cabin crew vaccinated against COVID-19.
The airline began vaccinating its crews earlier few weeks ago along with its Dubai-based counterpart, Emirates.
â€œWe proactively made the vaccine available to all our employees to not only help combat the effects of COVID-19 but to make travellers feel confident and reassured the next time they fly with us,â€ said CEO of Etihad Aviation Group, Tony Douglas.
â€œWe are the only airline in the world to make COVID-19 testing mandatory for every passenger and crew member before every flight and now, weâ€™re the first airline in the world with 100 percent vaccinated crew on-board.â€ Douglas, who has already received the Sinopharm vaccination, urged all Etihad employees to get vaccinated early on.
VP Medical Services and CSR, Etihad Aviation Group, Dr. Nadia Bastaki said, â€œFollowing the national vaccination programme, we worked tirelessly to become an approved COVID-19 vaccination clinic to support our staff, and their dependants, be able to easily access the vaccine.
â€œSince December 2020, we have been offering in-house vaccination appointments to our employees and their loved ones to ensure we are focused on our employeeâ€™s wellbeing.â€
However, Emirates has widened the scope of its vaccination programme but has stopped short of making vaccinations compulsory for operating crew.
Nigeria Says To Evacuate Refugees From Cameroon - URDUPOINT
NIGERIA, (UrduPoint / Pakistan Point News - 12th Feb, 2021 ) :Nigerian refugees mostly from the restive northeast state of Borno who fled to Cameroon due to Boko Haram insurgency will be brought back to Nigeria later in the month and early next month, a Nigerian official said on Friday.
The repatriation of Nigerian refugees from Cameroon has been scheduled for Feb. 27 and March 7 following a meeting in Maroua, Cameroon, of representatives from Nigeria's Federal government, its Borno state government and from the government of Cameroon, Borno state governor's spokesperson Isa Gusau said in a statement reaching Xinhua on Friday.
"A tripartite commission meeting held on Wednesday night has fixed Feb.
Borders slam shut to Victoria as state plunged into five-day lockdown - 9NEWS
State and territory governments across Australia are tightening border restrictions with Victoria after thousands of interstate travellers were potentially exposed to COVID-19 at Melbourne Airport.
There are now 13 coronavirus cases linked to Melbourne's Holiday Inn, with the state now entering a five-day snap lockdown.
There are also new potential community infection sites across Melbourne.
Of most concern to health authorities is the Brunetti cafe at Melbourne Airport.
An infected staff member worked there on Tuesday - potentially spreading the virus to interstate travellers before they boarded their planes.
All states and territorities except for New South Wales have now implemented tough border controls on those coming in from Victoria, while NSW is choosing to mimick Victoria's hard lockdown for those coming across the border.
U.S. continues plan to keep Central American migrants at bay - REUTERS
CIUDAD HIDALGO, Mexico (Reuters) - In the days before U.S. President Joe Bidenâ€™s inauguration, Mexican soldiers patrolling the banks of the wide Suchiate River found few migrants amid the flow of trade across the water from Guatemala.
The likely explanation lay hundreds of miles to the south, where baton-wielding Guatemalan security forces beat back one the largest U.S.-bound migrant caravans ever assembled, according to a Reuters photographer and other witnesses.
â€œWeâ€™re scared,â€ Honduran migrant Rosa Alvarez told a reporter by telephone as she fled with many others toward the nearby hills, two young children in tow.
The operation was part of a U.S.-led effort, pursued by past American administrations and accelerated under former President Donald Trump, to pressure first the Mexican and then the Central American governments to halt migration well short of the U.S. border.
Under the Biden administration, the same general strategy is likely to continue, at least for the near term, according to six U.S. and Mexican sources with knowledge of diplomatic discussions.
Biden has been gradually unraveling many Trump-era immigration policies. Yet the new administration has encouraged Mexico and Guatemala to keep up border enforcement in their countries to stem northward migration, according to two Mexican officials and a U.S official, all speaking on condition of anonymity.
Diplomats and experts at immigration think tanks told Reuters that it would be politically expedient for the Biden administration to keep asylum seekers and other migrants from trekking en masse to the countryâ€™s southern border, especially as Mexico and the United States are being ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic and seeking to contain its spread.
They also said any rush to the U.S border could hand Bidenâ€™s political opponents ammunition to sink the rest of his immigration agenda, which includes providing a pathway to citizenship for immigrants already in the United States and reducing asylum application backlogs.
The Biden administration has not specifically endorsed militarized action, however, and has vowed to treat migrants with dignity.
â€œThey want the relevant countries to have appropriate border controls,â€ said one former U.S. official familiar with the matter, who also spoke on condition of anonymity. â€œIt doesnâ€™t mean that they hold everyone back and beat back migrants. Thatâ€™s not the objective here.â€
A White House spokesperson declined to comment, referring Reuters to recent public remarks by Roberta Jacobson, a special assistant to the president specializing on the southwest border.
Jacobson told reporters on a recent call that the administration had not talked with Mexico specifically about how it deploys its security forces on its own soil. She added, however, that the two countriesâ€™ diplomats, as well as Biden and Mexican President AndrÃ©s Manuel LÃ³pez Obrador, had spoken about the need to jointly work on managing migration. She stressed the importance of addressing its root causes such as poverty and corruption.
Two other administration officials, including Juan Gonzalez, the presidentâ€™s lead adviser on Latin American policy, recently underscored U.S. support for immigration enforcement well south of the U.S. border.
â€œI need to recognize here the work that (Guatemalan) President (Alejandro) Giammattei has done in managing the migration flows when the caravans started out,â€ Gonzalez told the El Salvadoran investigative website El Faro after the January crackdown.
The Mexican government has informed the new U.S. administration that it intends to keep current immigration enforcement measures in place because it is in Mexicoâ€™s sovereign interest to secure its own borders, one senior Mexican official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Biden already faces pressure from leading Republican lawmakers who accuse his administration of undermining immigration enforcement.
The new administration has â€œsketched out a massive proposal for blanket amnesty that would gut enforcement of American laws while creating huge new incentives for people to rush here illegally at the same time,â€ Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said on the Senate floor after Bidenâ€™s first day in office.
Biden officials have repeatedly pleaded with asylum seekers not to migrate now, stressing that the administration needs time to enact its domestic immigration changes.
At the same time, human rights advocates say leaning on Mexico and Central America to halt mass migration violates peopleâ€™s rights to seek asylum. It also potentially subjects them to further violence and abuse on their journeys north, they say.
â€œWeâ€™ve seen time and time again that militarized approaches donâ€™t really stop people from leaving,â€ said Daniella Burgi-Palomino, co-director of the Latin America Working Group, an organization dedicated to influencing U.S. policy.
About 8,000 people, including many women and children, joined Januaryâ€™s migrant caravan shortly before Bidenâ€™s inauguration, aiming to arrive in the United States after he took office.
The Trump administration had all but locked down the U.S. southern border and forced some asylum applicants to wait for months in Mexico. It also had prodded Mexican and Central American governments, largely through threats, to confront migrant caravans.
For instance, Mexico in 2019 deployed 20,000 National Guard and soldiers to police its borders to stave off Trumpâ€™s threats to impose tariffs on Mexican goods.
Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras coordinated a regional containment strategy ahead of the January caravan, Martin Alonso Borrego, director of Latin America and the Caribbean for Mexicoâ€™s foreign ministry, told Reuters.
After a Jan. 11 meeting among the countries, Guatemala declared emergency powers in nearly a third of its states and deployed up to 4,000 soldiers, police officers and air force personnel.
As Bidenâ€™s inauguration approached, rumors that a large migrant group was forming in Honduras prompted Mexico to beef up its military presence at its own southern border and send buses to Guatemala to aid in the return of caravan members.
The crackdown in mid-January provided some respite to Mexican troops on the Suchiate River. It also inspired fear among migrants.
Honduran migrant Alvarez and her family spent days in Guatemalaâ€™s hills trying to make their way toward the Mexican border. â€œWeâ€™re without money and food,â€ she said, before Reuters lost touch with her.
In the mid-January confrontation in Guatemala, the Reuters photographer and other witnesses saw a wall of security forces confront hundreds of migrants, beating some and deploying tear gas. Some migrants threw rocks. Guatemalan immigration authorities reported an unspecified number of injuries.
Guatemalaâ€™s human rights ombudsman Jordan Rodas said â€œit was outrageous to see the scenes of how the military brutally received our Honduran brothers and sisters.â€
Immigration experts and people familiar with the Biden administrationâ€™s thinking say Washington may try to exercise more oversight down the line over how Mexican and Central American authorities conduct border containment operations.
Proponents of greater U.S. immigration control say it would be a mistake to pull back on the Trump-era pressure.
â€œItâ€™s not clear how effectively Guatemala and Mexico can block them, especially if the numbers get bigger and especially if they are not pressured to do so by Biden,â€ said Jessica Vaughan, policy director for the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors lower levels of immigration.
Laura Gottesdiener reported from Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, and Mexico City; Frank Jack Daniel from Mexico City, and Ted Hesson from Washington, D.C. Additional reporting by Luis Echeverria in Vado Hondo, Guatemala; SofÃa Menchu in Guatemala City, Dave Graham and Lizbeth Diaz in Mexico City, and Mimi Dwyer in Los Angeles. Editing by Julie Marquis
Tony Blair Says Covid Vaccine Passports â€˜Inevitableâ€™ At Home And Abroad - HUFFPOST
Exclusive: Former PM warns the poorest will suffer most until countries agree digital document showing vaccination and test statu
By Paul Waugh
Speaking to Radio 4â€™s Week in Westminster, the former Labour prime minister said that a document that combined vaccination and testing status would allow nations to defend themselves better against the virus.
Blair warned that the poorest at home and abroad were suffering most from continued lockdowns and urged Boris Johnson to use the UKâ€™s hosting of the G7 summit to speed up the process of global cooperation on a standardised Covid-status â€œpassportâ€.
He predicted that rapid coronavirus tests would become the norm at mass spectator events and the workplace as the public sought reassurance about safety at work and places of leisure.
The former premier also said the pandemic should be viewed as a â€œnational security issueâ€ for every country â€“ and admitted that when he was in power dealing with bird flu he had failed to grasp the need to invest much greater sums in anti-virus resilience.
A Cabinet sub-committee met on Friday to discuss plans for a vaccine and testing certificates for when global travel resumes. Ministers want an internationally recognised system.
In his interview, Blair said that as vaccines rolled out across the world and countries moved to reopen their borders, digital health passports would be seen as an invaluable weapon in containing the spread of the virus.
â€œWhen you start to reopen your borders again, youâ€™ll want to know the disease status of people coming into your country,â€ he said.
â€œOnce vaccination really starts to be widespread, of course youâ€™re going to ask for proof of what the vaccination status is and the reason for that is that the early evidence seems to be that if youâ€™re vaccinated, youâ€™re less likely to transmit the disease.
â€œAnd because of these new variants and because of the mutations that can occur, I think itâ€™s just inevitable and therefore itâ€™s best to start now on trying to devise common standards. If you start to do this on a vast scale, youâ€™re going to need the technology that allows you to do it digitally.â€
Blair, whose push for ID cards met with fierce civil liberties opposition when he was in office, suggested that a combined vaccine and test status document would have popular backing.
Pressed on whether there was a case for a domestic health passport and whether that may unfairly discriminate against some of the population, he said: â€œPeople look at this as if itâ€™s a matter of whatâ€™s fair or unfair and of course fairness is an important component, but itâ€™s also a matter of what is obvious.
â€œSuppose you were to go back into your workplace today, you would prefer to know that the people you were going back to work with had been tested. You would prefer to know that theyâ€™d been vaccinated when vaccination becomes available to the majority of the population. These things are just inevitable.â€
Blair insisted that he could not see domestic health passports becoming mandatory, but said that the public would probably drive demand, just as they would with widespread use of rapid lateral flow tests to check if someone was negative or positive.
â€œI think itâ€™s very difficult to make it actually compulsory. But I think there is again an inevitability about vaccination, enabling you to do certain things, and you know weâ€™re not complete masters of this ourselves itâ€™s a question of how the rest of the world is also going to look at it,â€ he said.
â€œI still think thereâ€™s a very, very strong case for using rapid, point-of-use, cheap antigen tests as an aid to this, not as a substitute for other measures, but as complementary to them.
â€œTo come back to this issue of proof of status, I think itâ€™s unlikely people will want to go to large events, unless they think theyâ€™re going to be mixing with people who at least have given some sort of proof of their status.â€
Silkie Carlo, director of UK Big Brother Watch, said: â€œI think he has very little moral authority to talk on these issues and of course he was a champion of ID cards which the British public completely rejected and thatâ€™s really what a vaccine passport scheme could easily become.
â€œLetâ€™s be very cautious of language like inevitability, which is often used by people with power to tell people without power, what theyâ€™re going to have.
â€œVaccine passports would be discriminatory, they would be coercive, they would almost certainly lead to authoritarian identity systems. It could be the biggest expansion of the surveillance state that weâ€™ve seen in western democracies.â€
But Prof Stephan Lewandowsky of the University of Bristol, said his research on â€œimmunity passportsâ€ â€“ issued to those who have antibodies after contracting the disease â€“ found that up to 80% of the British public were supportive of the idea.
Blair is understood to have been in contact with both Johnson and Keir Starmer in recent months as his research institute produced alternative strategies for combating the virus.
His proposal to speed up vaccination rollout, by offering a first dose to as many people as possible before a second dose, has been adopted by Johnson.
In the interview, Blair said there should be a real urgency from richer nations to roll out the vaccines to poorest countries because with Covid â€œdisease anywhere is disease everywhereâ€.
â€œIn the end, even those countries that have gone through a policy of eradication because theyâ€™ve been able to do so like for example, New Zealand, South Korea, Australia, at some point, theyâ€™ve got to open back up again.
â€œYouâ€™ve got to do whatever you need to do at this moment in time, but unless we get international business flowing again, and physical interaction happening again, then the economic damage is going to be absolutely devastating.
â€œAnd itâ€™s going to affect the poorest people in the world most. In fact, it is affecting the poorest people in our own countries most.â€
Asked about Labourâ€™s handling of the pandemic, Blair said the party was in an â€œincredibly difficult position because, of course they want to hold the government to account, but theyâ€™ve got to do that in a way that doesnâ€™t look churlish or mean spirited because most people in the country know whatever governmentâ€™s in power, this is a nightmare to deal with and is extremely toughâ€.
He added that Labour â€œcanâ€ win the next election and pointed out that the pandemic was â€œin a sense not a real situationâ€ to judge the Opposition.
â€œI think Keir Starmer has done the right things in pulling the Labour party back frankly from the Corbyn years.
â€œThe Labour Party can rebuild at the pace that it wants to rebuild. But thereâ€™s no doubt at all that itâ€™s only a rebuilt Labour Party, one that is back within the mainstream of British politics, that can win. Iâ€™ve got no doubt at all that thatâ€™s where he wants to get to.â€
Nigerian govt extends reopening of Third Mainland Bridge - DAILY POST
The Federal government has announced that the Third Mainland Bridge will no longer be opened on Monday but at the end of February.
The Federal Controller of Works in Lagos, Mr Olukayode Popoola who made this known to newsmen said that the bridge would be shut down again from Feb. 19 to 21 for completion of the project.
Popoola revealed that it was impossible for the contractor to close the Bridge during the week to cast concrete.
He said the bridge will, however, be reopened by the end of February.
â€œThird Mainland Bridge will no longer be opened on the 15th of February 2021 as announced earlier.
â€œThis decision was taken in order not to create hardship for the motoring public using the Third Mainland Bridge for their daily activities.
â€œWe are looking at the end of the month for the reopening of the bridge. That is, end of this February.
â€œThey will cast concrete on the last expansion joint next weekend and this cannot be done during the week because we are trying to endure that there will not be so much traffic for people going about their daily activities.
â€œWhen this casting is done, we need about three or four days to do post tensioning. That is why we are looking at end of February completion.
â€œCasting will be done next weekend for the last expansion joint and this will require total closure of the bridge.
â€œHowever, if we close the bridge Friday night, then we cast on Saturday by Sunday it will be reopened. That will be the last total closure to fix the last expansion joint.
â€œ We also regret the inconveniences these extra days will cause Lagosians,â€™â€™ he said.
At Last, Nigerians In Italy Now Procure Passports With Ease - LEADERSHIP
By Patrick Ochoga,
Nigerians resident in Italy yesterday have finally heaved a sigh of relief as the Controller General of the Nigeria Immigration Service, Muhammed Babandede, has ensured that more passports are made available to Nigerians seeking to obtain a passport booklets.
The new development is coming following a viral media report and outcry by members of the National Union of Nigeria Association in Italy, (NUNAI), penultimate weeks.
Speaking on the development made available to newsmen in Benin City, Edo state, a Leader of Nigerian Community in Palermo, Italy and also a welfare aspirant for Nunai, Pastor Mike Oputteh, yesterday in a statement expressed joy that the Nigeria Controller General of Immigration has come to their rescue in addressing shortages of passport booklets.
Oputteh, however appealed to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, to abolish what he described as service charges of Â£30 and Â£50 being paid for on passports after thumb-printing.
He said the issues of shortages began to receive urgent attention when the Immigration CG deployed the trio of Hajiya Laria Mohammed, Mrs Makcit Dauda and Mr Ebulum Charles to Rome.
According to Oputteh, â€œI want to say that prior to now, we have had a backlog of passport shortage over the years but with the coming of officials from Nigeria we now called super 3, the situation has changed drastically.
â€œWe are happy that the CG of Immigration Muhammed Babandede responded swiftly to our request by deploying men of integrity to Italy led by Hajiya Laria Mohammed and they have put an end to the shortage of passports booklet in Italy.
â€œBefore it took almost 2 years to replace a missing passport but today in 3 weeks you can get a fresh passport. So, we are very happy that our cry over passport issues is overâ€.
â€œBeside, I want to still appeal to the minister of Foreign affairs to please remove or reduce the service charges of â‚¬30 and â‚¬50 placed on consular services including â‚¬30 on passport after thumb printing because Nigerians are complaining bitterly of the hardship in Italy.â€
Germany partially closes borders despite EU criticism - AFP
Germany partially closed its borders with the Czech Republic and Austriaâ€™s Tyrol on Sunday over a troubling surge in coronavirus mutations, earning a swift rebuke from the European Union.
A thousand police officers were mobilised to ensure strict border checks, a reminder of the much-criticised early days of the pandemic when EU countries hastily closed their frontiers to each other.
At the Kiefersfelden crossing in southern Bavaria, masked officers in yellow high-visibility jackets were out in sub-zero temperatures, stopping each vehicle coming from Austria.
Under the new rules, only Germans or non-German residents are allowed through.
Exceptions are made for essential workers in sectors such as health and transport, as well as for urgent humanitarian reasons, the German interior ministry has said. Everyone must be able to provide a recent negative coronavirus test.
Among those turned back was Austrian driver Irene, who said she would now have to make an hours-long detour.
â€œI only wanted to drive through Germany to go to Vienna,â€ she told AFP. â€œThis is a catastrophe, I have a dog in the car who is 15 years old… I donâ€™t know the way and I donâ€™t have GPS.â€
The restrictions are aimed at slowing the spread of more contagious variants that first emerged in Britain and South Africa, and have created new virus hotspots along the Czech border and in Austriaâ€™s Tyrol region.
At the German-Czech border crossing in Bad Gottleuba, a police spokesman said the checks had caused waiting times of around one hour. Traffic is expected to be heavier from Monday, he added.
By Sunday afternoon, German police had checked more than 1,700 vehicles and denied entry to more than 500.
â€˜Enoughâ€™ The European Commission, eager to avoid a return to go-it-alone pandemic responses, has condemned Germanyâ€™s border restrictions.
â€œThe fear of the coronavirus mutations is understandable,â€ EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides told Germanyâ€™s Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper on Sunday.
â€œBut the truth is that the virus cannot be stopped by closed borders,â€ she said, adding that vaccines and following hygiene precautions were â€œthe only things that workâ€.
â€œI think itâ€™s wrong to return to a Europe with closed borders like we had in March 2020,â€ she added.
German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer rebuffed the criticism from Brussels.
â€œThatâ€™s enough now,â€ he told the top-selling Bild daily. The EU â€œhas made enough mistakesâ€ with its sluggish vaccine rollout, he said.
â€œWe are fighting against the mutated virus,â€ he said. â€œThe EU Commission should support us… instead of putting stones in our path.â€
German Health Minister Jens Spahn said he supported a â€œborder-free Europeâ€.
â€œBut there are times in a pandemic when you must make these decisions for everyoneâ€™s safety and health,â€ he told the Sueddeutsche newspaper.
German rail company Deutsche Bahn has suspended services to and from the affected areas.
At Frankfurt airport, the countryâ€™s largest, federal police were checking passengers arriving from Vienna and Prague.
â€˜Reassuringâ€™ More than two months of tough shutdowns have significantly brought down Germanyâ€™s infection numbers, but Chancellor Angela Merkelâ€™s government recently decided to extend a partial lockdown until March 7 because of the risks posed by the variants.
In the Czech Republic, one of the hardest-hit countries in Europe, three cantons including two on the German border have been placed under lockdown due to the prevalence of the British strain.
Within Austria, anyone leaving the mountainous region of Tyrol now needs to produce a negative test following a cluster of Covid-19 cases linked to the South African variant.
Bavarian premier Markus Soeder, visiting a checkpoint with the Czech border, said Germany could not risk squandering the progress made in the battle against the pandemic.
â€œFor everyone not living in a hotspot itâ€™s reassuring to know that those in border regions are working hard to prevent the spread of the virus,â€ he said.