Coronavirus: Austria steps up border checks as COVID-19 cases rise in Balkans
As coronavirus cases rise in the Western Balkans, Austria is intensifying border controls with the help of the military.
Anyone entering from Slovenia must now expect random checks, such as at the Karawanks Tunnel border crossing in Carinthia.
Soldiers and police officers inspect cargo as well as the health status of passengers: “Whether there is a valid coronavirus test, whether the person has to go into home quarantine, or whether the person is simply passing through Austria,” says Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Enenkel.
Checks especially focus on vehicles with number plates from countries with rising infection rates such as Bosnia or Serbia. In the case of coaches, all passengers are asked to step out to be checked.
Several Balkan countries are seeing a spike in coronavirus cases. Montenegro, which was declared free of the epidemic by authorities in June, now has the highest infection rate in the region.
Serbia's government had to backtrack on plans for a second lockdown earlier this month after violent protests erupted in the capital.
"The reason for this re-enforcement of border controls is simply the increase in the number of cases in the Western Balkan countries, and ultimately also the increase of cases in Austria,” says Lieutenant Colonel Enenkel.
Not all negative coronavirus test results are accepted in Austria. The government has issued a warning against some tests sold in Balkan countries that do not meet EU standards.
In addition to border controls, Austria has imposed landing bans for all Western Balkan countries. Flights from cities such as Belgrade, Sarajevo, and even Bucharest have been cancelled.
While the landing bans, for now, only apply until the end of July, border controls could soon be extended to Italy.