The European Union has introduced a travel ban that prohibits most foreigners from entering the bloc for 30 days to discourage the spread of the new coronavirus.
- The travel ban exempts long-term EU residents, diplomats, some healthcare and transport workers
- Angela Merkel said citizens of Switzerland, Liechtenstein, the UK and Norway were exempt
- 17 people die in a Madrid nursing home
EU leaders agreed on Tuesday (local time) to shut down the 27-nation bloc’s external borders immediately and to set up fast-track transport lanes to keep vital medical equipment, food and goods flowing smoothly.
As the virus case count in Europe climbed to more than 60,000 and with more than 2,700 people dead, nervous national governments have introduced quick-fix measures such as partial border closures and quarantines with little consultation.
“We reaffirmed the need to work together and do everything necessary to tackle the crisis and its consequences,” European Council President Charles Michel told reporters.
He said the 27 EU countries agreed to impose border restrictions on tourism and non-essential business “as fast as possible”.
The plan exempts long-term EU residents, diplomats, and some healthcare and transport workers.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said her proposal for the restrictions “got a lot of support by the member states. It’s up to them now to implement. They said they will immediately do that.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the leaders agreed in a conference call to an entry ban with “very, very limited exceptions”, and that her country would start implementing it immediately.
Ms Merkel said citizens of Switzerland, Liechtenstein, the United Kingdom and Norway were exempt.
The EU leaders also agreed to coordinate the repatriation of EU citizens stranded outside the bloc, she said.
Ms Von der Leyen said they also backed a proposal to set up “green lanes” for trucks and other priority vehicles aimed at beating the traffic jams that have formed around crossing points on internal borders, where no ID or vehicle checks were required just days ago.
“We are ready to do everything that is required. We shall not hesitate to take additional measures as the situation evolves,” she told reporters.
17 die in Madrid nursing home
In its latest update, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said that 61,098 cases of the new coronavirus have now been reported in Europe and that 2,740 people have died, the overwhelming majority in Italy.
Along with Italy, Spain and now France have imposed lockdowns, confining citizens to their homes except for urgent business like buying food or heading to any hospital that might still have the capacity to treat them.
City authorities in Madrid said at least 17 people from a nursing home in the Spanish capital have died in the past five days.
The Spanish Government reported 182 new fatalities in its latest update, bringing the total to 491 and making Spain the country with the world’s fastest-rising death toll after Italy.
The number of people infected rose to 11,178.
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Meanwhile, nine countries have informed the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, that they’ve reintroduced ID checks inside Europe’s passport-free Schengen Area.
Among them are Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland, which all took unilateral action to halt the influx of migrants in 2015.
As the EU tackles the coronavirus outbreak, the bloc is again facing the challenge of trying to maintain solidarity between members.
Asked on Monday whether Europe can ever return to real ID-check free travel after this, Ms Merkel said: “I hope so. But it’s been shown that coordination didn’t work well everywhere the way one would have hoped.”
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