BRUSSELS – European Union leaders agreed Tuesday to immediately impose travel restrictions on most foreigners entering Europe for at least 30 days to limit the spread of the new coronavirus, and to set up fast-track transport lanes to keep vital medical equipment, food and goods flowing smoothly inside the bloc.
As the virus case count in Europe climbed to over 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. The EU sought over three hours of video talks to forge a united front against an illness that is also wreaking economic havoc.
“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, 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."
Chancellor Angela Merkel said the leaders agreed in a conference call to an entry ban with "very, very limited exceptions," and that Germany would start implementing it immediately.
Merkel said citizens of Switzerland, Liechtenstein, the United Kingdom and Norway are exempt. The EU leaders also agreed to coordinate the repatriation of EU citizens stranded outside the bloc, she said.
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.