Leaders shut Europe’s borders to fight outbreak

Brussels, March 17 (AFP/APP): The European Union will impose an entry ban on travelers from outside the bloc for 30 days to battle the spread of the coronavirus, European leaders decided on Tuesday.

The decision is the most significant emergency measure yet from the EU, which has scrambled to come up with a unified response to the deadly epidemic that is sweeping the continent.

The 27 leaders met by videoconference to agree on the ban on non-essential travel to the bloc — an idea strongly backed by France, hoping to persuade member states that they need not close doors to each other.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen had proposed the bloc’s Schengen passport-free zone impose the measure, a drastic and unprecedented move, and that fellow EU states outside the zone follow suit.

The ban will be in effect for an initial period of 30 days and will not affect Europeans returning home, social workers, cross-border workers, or citizens of former EU member Britain.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said states “agreed to impose an entry ban” into the bloc, with only nationals of closely-aligned EFTA countries, such as Norway or Iceland, as well as Britain, exempt from the restriction.

“Germany will implement it immediately,” added the leader of Europe’s biggest economy, which had initially closed its national borders.

“This is an exceptional measure that shouldn’t last longer than necessary,” Sweden’s Minister for Home Affairs Mikael Damberg told a Stockholm press conference.

The ban comes as EU countries have unilaterally adopted various policies to slow the rapid surge of coronavirus on the continent.

After the talks, French President Emmanuel Macron’s office said he had “firmly condemned uncoordinated measures to control internal EU borders, which are not helpful in terms of health and hurt the economy.”

Several EU countries have closed their frontiers or imposed new health screening controls that slow cross-border freight traffic, despite calls from Brussels for a single European plan.

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