European Union leaders agreed to restrict most travel into the continent in an unprecedented move aimed at slowing down the spread of a deadly coronavirus and mitigating its effects on the bloc.
The restrictions will apply to all non-EU citizens and last for an initial 30 days, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters after a video conference with her fellow leaders. Merkel said that the group expressed a “great readiness” to do whatever is necessary to contain the outbreak and was braced for a “very serious” economic impact.
Banning all travel to foreign nationals adds to a series of restrictive measures that would have been unthinkable in western democracies only a few weeks ago. Several EU member states have imposed curfews and lockdowns, shutting shops, bars, schools, and restaurants in a last-ditch effort to stop the disease from overwhelming the continent’s healthcare systems.
For the U.K., which has left the EU, the question becomes how this will affect its travelers. From the EU perspective, the ban does not extend to them but in practice, everyone is being told to stay put given that the U.K. has advised its citizens to avoid non-essential travel anywhere in the world. With flights canceled, crossings between the U.K. and the continent has become impossible.
While the moves are deemed essential by many epidemiologists, they are bound to deal a severe blow to the European and global economies. EU governments officially acknowledge the bloc is heading to a recession this year — the first since the sovereign debt crisis.
The sealing of Europe’s external border is aimed at lifting an ever-growing number of internal border closings, which have disrupted free movement within the bloc — one of the key pillars of European integration. It’s unclear, however, whether the internal border checks will be phased out following the latest decision, given the fear of many governments about virus transmissions from visitors, European or otherwise.