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Tense atmosphere for UK passengers held at German airports

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Flight passengers wait at Duesseldorf Airport in Duesseldorf, western Germany, on December 21, 2020, amid the ongoing novel coronavirus / COVID-19 pandemic. – Countries around the world have begun banning flights and travellers from the UK after a new strain of coronavirus was detected there. (Photo by Ina FASSBENDER / AFP)

German national Sabrina Dinkler-Stemme said she was treated like a “criminal” as she stepped off a flight from Britain and found herself blocked at Hanover airport.

“I was completely encircled by the police. I was outside in the rain. We could not move because we were blocked with another 70 passengers,” she recounted of her ordeal on Sunday evening.

Dinkler-Stemme had been on one of the last flights from Britain to arrive in Germany before a temporary ban kicked in from midnight stopping arrivals from the United Kingdom after a new strain of coronavirus was detected there.

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“There was no information given to us except a police officer who told me: ‘it’s your fault, you knew and you still took the flight’,” said Dinkler-Stemme.

British travellers still flying into Germany on Sunday were prevented from leaving the airport, with health officials and nurses — some dressed in hazmat suits — administering immediate Covid-19 tests.

The measures hit those arriving in Hanover from Britain, who were kept overnight in the airport and were not allowed to leave until they received a negative test result on Monday morning.

The terminal’s officials set up camp beds to help passengers spend the night.

Among the stranded travellers, the atmosphere was tense.

“We are at Hanover airport and we are held against our will, we were tested and were prohibited from leaving the premises while awaiting the results,” said Manuela Thomys, in a video shared online by German daily Bild.

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Groups of people including a nine-month-old baby can be seen in the clip. “Please help us leave!” Thomys says.

“We’re all exhausted, many people are crying. Everyone’s talking to their family members. It’s really an uncomfortable situation when all we want to do it to go home,” said another passenger who only gave her name as Sophie.

157 blocked in Frankfurt
Local authorities have apologised for the inconvenience caused ahead of Christmas.

“Our aim is to prevent the new variant of the virus from entering the region,” Hanover health official Andreas Kranz explained to German news wire DPA.

The passengers were finally allowed to leave on Monday morning as results came in, with one person testing positive, the city of Hanover said in a statement.

Further tests will be carried out to see if the positive test is of the new mutant strain.

The affected passenger and others who were accompaning the individual were taken to their residence where they are to be quarantined, the city added.

Similar scenes were unfolding in other German airports, including Frankfurt where 157 people arriving from Britain and South Africa — where the mutant strain of the virus has also been detected — are blocked.

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“We took care of them by distributing camp beds, drinks and food,” sai Christian Engel, a spokesman at the airport.

Around half of the group have been tested and are awaiting their results while tests are ongoing for the remaining passengers, said police.

Germany reported a record in daily new infections on Thursday, surpassing the 30,000 mark for the first time, and has recorded a total of 24,125 deaths.

Scientists first discovered the new strain of the virus — which they believe is 70 percent more transmissible — in a patient in September.

But alarm bells were set ringing across Europe last week as the strain appeared to be raging in parts of Britain.

Europe last week became the first region in the world to pass 500,000 deaths from Covid-19 since the pandemic began a year ago.

A spokeswoman for the World Health Organization told AFP that “across Europe, where transmission is intense and widespread, countries need to redouble their control and prevention approaches.”

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