EU shuts its external borders to fight coronavirus

Brussels, Mar 17 (efe-epa).- The European Union will shut its foreign borders for 30 days as the bloc attempts to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The president of the European Council, Charles Michel, confirmed the unprecedented measures at a joint press briefing on Tuesday with the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen after a meeting by video conference with the leaders of the 27 EU member states.

The meeting, held to approve the Commission proposal to introduce a temporary restriction on non-essential travel to the EU, was also attended by president of the European Central Bank (ECB) Chistine Lagarde, Eurogroup president Maria Centeno and High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell.

Europe is the epicenter of the pandemic, with the number of cases surging every day by thousands.

“The less travel, the more we can contain the virus,” von der Leyen said, adding that the restrictions would be for “an initial period of 30 days, which can be prolonged as necessary.”

Member states are taking “strong measures” to slow down the spread of the virus, but she cautioned that they would be “effective only when they are coordinated.”

“On the one hand, we have to protect people from the spread of the virus, and at the same time, we have to make sure that we maintain the flow of goods. It is vital to keep the mobility sector going in order to ensure economic continuity”.

There will be exemptions for essential health care and scientific personnel, returning EU citizens or long-term residents, as well as frontier workers.

In Italy, the worst-affected country outside of China with over 2,500 deaths, people have been confined to their homes since the start of last week and all non-essential businesses have closed, while Spain has rolled out similar measures restricting people’s movements.

China, the origin of the outbreak, was the first to impose isolation on millions of its citizens as it tried to stem the spread of the deadly COVID-19 disease, which has killed more than 7,800 people and infected over 194,000 worldwide.

Spain, which has been under a state of alarm since Saturday, closed its borders on Monday night, while its 47 million inhabitants have been ordered to stay at home except to go to work, to buy medical products and food, to visit medical centers or to care for dependent family members.

Only supermarkets, pharmacies and other shops selling items of primary necessity are open.

In France, which also closed its land borders on Tuesday, the public has been prohibited from leaving their homes – unless strictly necessary – for the next 15 days. Social family and group gatherings will be banned, and even walks outside will be prohibited.

In a televised address on Monday night, Macron announced the closure of all non-indispensable locations, notably cafes, restaurants, cinemas, nightclubs, and shops.

“We are at war, in a health war,” Macron said. “It’s true that we’re not fighting either against an army or a nation, but the enemy is here, invisible, untouchable, and it’s advancing”.

While Germany has also closed its borders as part of coordinated European efforts to stem the spread of the disease, chancellor Angela Merkel echoed von der Leyen’s message and insisted that goods continue to flow.

“It is crucial that goods can move freely” if the economic damage of the crisis is to be mitigated, Merkel said. EFE-EPA


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