May 13, 2020 / 7:03 AM / 16 days ago

Austrian-German border to fully reopen in a month, Austria says

VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria said on Wednesday its border with Germany will fully reopen in a month, one of the first big steps to reopen land borders across the EU that have been shut to fight the coronavirus.

Austria’s conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz is pushing for borders with countries that have similarly low infection rates to be reopened. Vienna is working on similar two-step reopenings with Switzerland, Liechtenstein and “neighbouring eastern European countries”, his office said.

“As of May 15 there will be only spot checks on the German-Austrian border. A full border opening will follow on June 15,” Kurz’s office said in a statement. Tourism Minister Elisabeth Koestinger told broadcaster ORF the first loosening would allow family visits and business trips.

Free movement across Europe is one of the hallmarks of the EU, vital for cultural ties and for reviving the tourism industry. The bloc’s executive, the European Commission, is expected to urge member countries on Wednesday to take gradual steps to reopen borders.

Austria and Germany both introduced lockdowns early in their outbreaks and have fared comparatively well, with lower death tolls per capita than many European peers.

Kurz has been lobbying Germany and his office said the move followed a discussion with Chancellor Angela Merkel. Tourism accounts for about 8% of Austria’s economic output and Germany is the biggest source of foreign visitors.

Kurz said in a comments broadcast on Tuesday that checks at the Swiss border could be eased within days.

Reporting by Alexandra Schwarz-Goerlich, Kirsti Knolle and Francois Murphy; Editing by Michelle Martin and Peter Graff

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