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Berlin mayor says city won't be sealed off again

FILE PHOTO: People with and without protective face masks are pictured at Wilmersdorfer Strasse shopping street, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Berlin, Germany, October 12, 2020. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

BERLIN (Reuters) - Berlin’s mayor warned against domestic travel restrictions that would cut Germany’s largest city off from the rest of the country, saying they would be impractical and dredge up painful memories of previous partitions.

“The city has been sealed off several times in its history, that is not an option,” Michael Mueller said at a news conference on Wednesday, after federal and regional leaders unveiled new restrictions to fight the pandemic.

Germany’s states had agreed earlier this month that residents of domestic coronavirus risk areas should not be allowed to stay in hotels in other parts of the country to curb surging numbers of new infections.

But the city-state of Berlin was among a few that did not implement the decision.

Berlin became a symbol of the Cold War confrontation between East and West after World War Two, when its western part became a besieged and isolated exclave of democratic West Germany deep inside Soviet-backed East Germany’s territory.

In 1948, western allies responded to a Soviet blockade of the city’s three western sectors with a huge airlift of supplies. With the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, West Berlin was cut off from East Berlin and surrounding East Germany.

Mueller said that a ban on travellers would be difficult to implement in Berlin, which is the workplace for thousands of commuters from the surrounding state of Brandenburg and which hosts many political and cultural events that require travel from other cities.

Berlin reported 503 new cases on Wednesday, bringing the total to 19,536. The number of new cases per 100,000 residents over seven days stood at 76.3, well above the threshold of 50 that Germany uses to define high-risk areas.

Reporting by Thomas Escritt, Maria Sheahan and Paul Carrel; Editing by Sam Holmes