Europe plans full border closure in coronavirus battle

The European Commission is planning to ban all non-essential travel throughout Europe’s Schengen free-travel zone as more countries close their borders to try to limit the spread of coronavirus.

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said she would ask leaders to implement the measures on Tuesday.

“The less travel, the more we can contain the virus,” she said.

French President Emmanuel Macron earlier said the EU’s external borders would be closed to travellers.

“Concretely, all trips between non-European countries and EU countries will be suspended,” Mr Macron said in a televised address on Monday

Long-term residents, family members of EU nationals and diplomats would be exempt as well as cross-border and healthcare workers and people transporting goods, Ms von der Leyen said during a video conference.

The measures would be in place for at least 30 days.

The Schengen agreement allows people to move freely between EU countries without border checks. Citizens of non-Schengen EU member states will also be invited to apply the travel ban, including the UK.

The comments came ahead a video-summit with EU leaders on Tuesday hosted by European Council chief Charles Michel.

What is France doing?

President Macron has ordered people to stay at home and only go out for essential duties. He said the previous measures, including the closing of schools, cafes and non-essential shops, had proved insufficient.

“Even while medics were warning about the gravity of the situation, we saw people get together in the parks, busy markets and restaurants and bars that did not respect the order to close,” he said in the 20-minute televised address.

“We are at war… we’re fighting neither another army nor our own nation. But the enemy is here, invisible, untouchable… and is advancing.”

The restrictions in France will be in place for at least 15 days, Mr Macron added, vowing to punish any infringement. The government later said more than 100,000 officers would be deployed nationwide to enforce the lockdown.

President Macron also said the army would be used to help transport the sick to hospital and that the second round of local elections this weekend was being postponed. He also offered reassurance to businesses, saying: “No French company, whatever its size, will be exposed to the risk of collapse”.

On Tuesday, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire unveiled a €45bn ($50bn; £41bn) aid package to help businesses and affected employees.

France has so far registered more than 6,000 infections and 148 deaths.

The country will close its land borders from midday (11:00 GMT) on Tuesday, Mr Macron said.

The latest news outside Europe:

  • Voting on Tuesday in the Democratic primary in the US state of Ohio has been postponed, although voting is set to go ahead in Arizona, Florida, and Illinois
  • President Donald Trump said the coronavirus emergency could last until the end of the summer or even longer and that Americans over the next 15 days should not gather in groups of more than 10 and avoid bars, restaurants, food courts, gyms and crowds
  • China reported just one new domestic infection on Tuesday – but 20 more from people arriving from abroad. It also said it “strongly opposed” Mr Trump’s reference in a tweet to the “Chinese virus”
  • Wuhan Zall, the Chinese football team based in the city that saw the virus originate, finally arrived back in China after being stranded in Spain since January – and were immediately quarantined
  • The Philippines became the first nation to shut its stock exchange indefinitely
  • A spokesman for the judiciary in Iran – the world’s third-worst-affected nation, said some 85,000 prisoners, including political prisoners, had been temporarily released to try to combat the spread, AFP reports
  • Malaysia is barring people crossing the border with Singapore from Wednesday, sparking a rush on food stores in the city state, which depends on Malaysia for supplies
  • India’s iconic monument Taj Mahal has shut down
  • Scientists in Australia say they have identified how the body’s immune system fights the Covid-19 virus

What is Germany doing?

Chancellor Angela Merkel has banned religious services and told people to cancel any domestic or foreign holiday travel.

Venues including clubs, bars, leisure facilities, zoos and playgrounds will be closed. Restaurants will have to enforce a minimum distance between tables and work under restricted hours. Schools across the country have already been closed.

“The better everyone sticks to these rules, the faster we’ll get through this phase,” she said at a news conference in Berlin, vowing that the government would try to minimise the economic impact of the outbreak.

Germany now has close to 7,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus, and 14 deaths. Large gatherings nationwide had already been banned.

Traffic crossing Germany’s borders with France, Austria, Switzerland and Luxembourg were on Monday restricted to goods and people commuting for work.

How are other Europe countries responding?

Spain implemented controls at land borders at midnight on Monday and only Spanish citizens, residents and special cases are allowed in the country.

The Spanish government imposed a partial lockdown on its 47 million inhabitants on Saturday, as part of a 15-day state of emergency. People are barred from leaving home except buy essential supplies and medicines, or for work.

The WHO’s figures on Tuesday showed that Spain had now passed South Korea as the world’s fourth worst-affected nation.

Italy, the worst-affected nation outside China, where the virus originated, announced another surge in deaths, past the 2,000 mark to 2,150, with more than 20,000 cases.

Last week, the WHO said Europe was now the “epicentre” of the virus and urged governments to act aggressively to control the spread of Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

The head of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, also told other countries to follow the containment strategies used in China and South Korea, saying they showed the pandemic was controllable.

BBC