Germany introduces localised lockdowns to contain COVID-19 outbreaks

FILE PHOTO: A sticker reads "keep distance" as the Moselle river car ferry between the German town of Oberbillig and the Luxembourg town of Wasserbillig is being loaded during the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Oberbillig, Germany, July 15, 2020. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany took steps on Thursday to fine-tune its response to localised coronavirus outbreaks, introducing tighter restrictions on affected residents over smaller areas.

Unlike some of its neighbours, Germany has, rather than locking down its citizens, so far managed the pandemic with less intrusive measures such as closing schools and bars and banning large gatherings.

Last month, there was public outcry when an outbreak at a meatpacking plant in western Germany led to restrictions being imposed on two districts that are home to around 650,000 people.

With the summer holiday season just starting, residents were allowed to leave the area, however, though hotels in some other German regions turned them away as high-risk.

Under the new strategy announced by federal and regional governments, areas with localised coronavirus outbreaks will be closed off more fully, with residents prohibited from travelling beyond their borders.

But the closures will be enforceable on individual districts rather than only on larger administrative zones, as was the case until now.

The threshold for localised curbs remains at 50 new infections per 100,000 residents over a one-week period, but local authorities can now restrict non-essential travel into and out of affected areas if that rate is reached or if the extent of the virus’ spread is uncertain.

To help enforce and police limits on travel, hotels and B&Bs will be prohibited from taking in guests from coronavirus “hotspots” who do not have an up-to-date COVID-19 test showing they have not been infected.

Reporting by Andreas Rinke; Writing by Maria Sheahan; editing by John Stonestreet