The European Union will introduce measures to temporarily restrict non-essential travel for non-member countries for 30 days in an effort to slow the spread of of the novel coronavirus, commission president Ursula von der Leyen announced on Monday.
“Here in Europe, we are heavily affected by the virus and we know that everything that reduces social interaction also reduces the speed of the spread of the virus. The less travel, the more we can contain the virus,” von der Leyen said in a video posted to her official Twitter account.
“Therefore, as I have just informed our G7 partners, I propose to the heads of state and government to introduce temporary restriction on non-essential travel to the EU.”
In the video, von der Leyen said the EU’s health-care system was under “huge” amounts of pressure and proposed so-called “green lanes,” or “fast lanes,” that would prioritize essential transport like medical supplies and perishable foods as well as emergency services.
According to von der Leyen, the 30-day travel restrictions would be prolonged as necessary. She also spoke of exemptions.
Long-term residents, family members of EU nationals and diplomats would be exempted as well as essential staff such as doctors, nurses, care workers, researchers and experts who help address the new coronavirus.
She added that frontier workers who legally commute across the border from neighbouring countries and people transporting goods would also be excluded.
“The flow of goods to the EU must continue to secure the supply of goods including essential items such as medicines but also food and components that our factories need,” said von der Leyen.
In order for the travel restrictions to be effective, the EU commission president said the move would require a co-ordinated effort with surrounding Schengen states. There are 26 countries in the Schengen Area, including 26 countries including EU members France, Italy, German, Greece, Austria and Belgium.
She said she would be discussing measures to support the economy with other G7 leaders later on Monday and would be working to develop a temporary framework for state aid for all EU members.
“This would allow the provision of state at unprecedented levels. It would enable businesses to access liquidity for the coming month,” she said, adding there would be more to come.
The latest figures from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control show more than 30,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 across the continent. As of Monday morning, they said over 1,800 people have died from the virus in Europe.
Following a surge in confirmed cases in Italy on Monday, the World Health Organization declared Europe the “epicentre of the pandemic, with more reported cases and deaths than the rest of the world combined, apart from China.”
“More cases are now being reported every day than were reported in China at the height of its epidemic,” the organization said.
The commission president’s announcement comes several days after the European Union slammed United States President Donald Trump’s travel ban — a “unilateral” decision to restrict all travel between the Europe and the U.S.
“The European Union disapproves of the fact that the U.S. decision to impose a travel ban was taken unilaterally and without consultation,” EU Council president Charles Michel and von der Leyen said in a joint statement on Thursday.
“The coronavirus is a global crisis, not limited to any continent, and it requires co-operation rather than unilateral action,” they said.
— With files from the Associated PressView link »