In the latest challenge to Europe’s open borders, the French government announced stricter border checks this week between Germany and the eastern Moselle region of France, one of several areas experiencing a spike in Covid-19 cases and where the authorities are contemplating tightening local restrictions.
It is the most recent effort by a European Union member nation to control the virus’s spread by resurrecting national border checkpoints long absent from the bloc, one of whose fundamental pillars is the free movement of people.
Starting on Monday, nearly all those wanting to cross the border will have to present a negative coronavirus test from the past 72 hours before entering France, Olivier Véran, the health minister, and Clément Beaune, the junior minister in charge of European affairs, said in a statement on Thursday. Only cross-border workers in the area will be exempted.
Last month, France closed its borders to non-European Union countries and made it mandatory for all travelers from within the bloc to present a negative test at the border. Cross-border residents were exempted, regardless of whether they were traveling for work.
The new regulation will apply to all people are crossing the border from Germany into Moselle for nonprofessional reasons like shopping and family visits.
“On both sides of the border, we share the goal of preserving free movement and of enabling cross-border workers to pursue their professional activity,” Mr. Véran and Mr. Beaune wrote in their statement.
The minister also said that cross-border workers would be encouraged to work from home, that the authorities would set up a weekly testing strategy for such workers at the border, and that French and German police patrols would be bolstered in the area to ensure compliance.
Germany has also imposed restrictions on entry from neighboring countries, with much of its focus on preventing people coming from the Czech Republic — where new cases are rising again — from entering without proof that they are not infected with the virus.
Prime Minister Jean Castex of France said at a news conference on Thursday that new virus variants, primarily the one first detected in Britain, now accounted for half of all new infections in the country. He warned that 20 areas around the country — including Paris — could soon see domestic curbs on movement tightened if infections continued to rise and hospitals remained under pressure.
France has resisted imposing a nationwide lockdown, like many of its neighbors, relying instead on a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew and more targeted measures limiting social interaction.
The stepped-up restrictions could include weekend lockdowns, increased checks at airports and a crackdown on gatherings in public places, similar to measures recently enforced on the French Riviera and in the city of Dunkirk, Mr. Castex said.
Over 85,000 people have died because of the pandemic in France.