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Germany plans COVID-19 tests for Luxembourg arrivals

July 28, 2020

While many citizens from EU member states can again freely enter Germany, people from Luxembourg will soon face compulsory coronavirus tests. Unsurprisingly, this has caused irritation. Bernd Riegert reports.

Wegweiser Schengen am Ortseingang von Schengen in Luxemburg
Image: imago/W. Rothermel

Germany's disease control and prevention agency, the Robert Koch Institute, has compiled a long list of countries that it says pose a high-risk of coronavirus infection. German authorities therefore advise against traveling there. People returning from those countries must go into quarantine once back in Germany. And German Health Minster Jens Spahn now wants to make coronavirus tests compulsory for anyone arriving from these areas. 

Sick man of Europe?

Neither quarantine periods nor coronavirus tests are compulsory for individuals arriving to Germany from other EU member state. But things are different for Luxembourg, which the Robert Koch Institute recently designated a high-risk country due to its soaring infection rates. As of next week, anyone arriving from the tiny country with a population of merely 600,000, will have to take a coronavirus test. Many Luxemburg nationals have reacted angrily to the announcement. Commuters and those traveling for other essential reasons, meanwhile, will be exempted.

A medic, wearing a full protective equipment, talks to a driver while taking a mouth swab sample to be tested for coronavirus
Luxembourg offers its citizens drive-through COVID-19 testing facilitiesImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/F. Seco

Read more: How testing at German airports aims to stop coronavirus at the border

Comprehensive testing in Luxembourg

Ulf Nehrbass, who heads the Luxembourg Institute of Health, has said he is disappointed to see his country classified as a high-risk region. He said German authorities had neither "contacted" nor "discussed" the situation with their Luxembourg counterparts, and made their decision without prior warning. According to his institute, the national infection rate has plateaued, albeit at a "high rate." An average 60 to 100 new cases are reported daily. Nehrbass argues these figures result from comprehensive testing efforts in his country. Indeed, some 400,000 coronavirus tests have been conducted so far — more than in any EU member state in relation to population size.

Borders to remain open

Germany's interior minister does not plan to reintroduce checks at roads and train stations along the country's border with Luxembourg, which had caused irritation among locals on both sides of the frontier. The governments of Rhineland-Palatinate and Saarland, two German states bordering Luxembourg, had spoken out against imposing new border checks. Yet it remains unclear at this stage how compulsory coronavirus tests will be conducted without them.

Read more: Opinion: EU coronavirus deal is the wrong answer for Europe

Luxembourg-based newspapers, meanwhile, have reported on citizens being rejected by German hotels. Ulrike Tischer, who manages a hotel in Germany's southwestern Black Forest region, told journalists she turned back vacationers from Luxembourg due to ever changing regulations in Germany. She says she similarly rejected holidaymakers from German regions deemed high-risk areas at the time. She said she would welcome anyone who can show their test result had come back negative. To dispel any ill will and confusion, she then took to Facebook, clarifying that "visitors from Luxembourg are welcome."

A doctor's assistant holds a bag containing a COVID-19 throat swab sample
​​​​​​​​Germany's Health Minister Jens Spahn wants mandatory testing for people they come back from COVID-19 hotspotsImage: Getty Images/S. Gallup

European inconsistencies

Luxembourg's Ulf Nehrbass says neighboring European countries face similar infection rates as his country. Each country, however, is handling the situation differently. Belgium, which has also seen a drastic rise in infections, has classified Luxembourg as an orange zone, according to its traffic light warning scheme. This means it strongly discourages traveling there. While Belgian authorities are not obliging individuals arriving from Luxembourg to quarantine, it nevertheless recommends doing so. Luxembourg nationals wishing to cross over into neighboring France, on the other hand, have no issues doing so.

Read more: Fewer Germans willing to get coronavirus vaccine, survey shows 

On social media, many Luxembourgers have criticized what they perceive as a "witch hunt" against them. Authorities in the country, meanwhile, now plan to expand testing in the south to better trace infection chains. Prime Minister Xavier Bettel has also called on his compatriots to take social distancing very seriously and wear masks. Authorities have also banned gatherings of more than 10 people.

Bernd Riegert
Bernd Riegert Senior European correspondent in Brussels with a focus on people and politics in the European Union