Coronavirus: EU chief proposes 30-day ban on non-essential travel

President of the European Union Commission Ursula von der Leyen said that she has informed the G7 and proposed the travel ban to heads of states and governments

FILE PHOTO: EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen presents the EU executive's economic response to the coronavirus epidemic, in Brussels, Belgium March 13, 2020. REUTERS/Johanna Geron/File Photo
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President of the European Union Commission Ursula von der Leyen has proposed a 30-day ban on all non-essential travel into the EU as part of efforts to combat the spread of coronavirus.

Ms Von der Leyen said that she has informed the G7 and proposed to heads of states and governments that a travel ban be implemented for an initial period of 30 days, which may be prolonged later.

"Our healthcare system is under huge pressure, therefore member states have taken strong measures to slow down the spread of the virus. These measures are only effective when they are co-ordinated," she said in a video posted on Twitter.

"We know that anything that reduces social interaction also reduces the spread of the virus. The less travel the more we can contain he virus."

Long term residents of the EU, family members of EU nationals, diplomats, essential staff such as doctors, nurses and research experts working on coronavirus and people transporting goods will all be exempt from the ban.

The restriction must be approved by all 26 states that make up the Schengen area, with non-Schengen members, including the UK, invited to take part.

Ms Von der Leyen said she would discuss economic measures with the G7 leaders later on Monday to support the economy and temporary framework for "unprecedented levels" of state aid.

She stressed the need for the flow of goods to continue, suggesting the introduction of fast lanes that give priority to essential transport.

Travel restrictions were also put into place in Egypt, which is suspending all air travel starting on Thursday until the end of the month, and Jordan, where will arrivals be subject to compulsory quarantine.

Those arriving at Jordan's airports and border crossings will be taken to hotels in the Dead Sea region and Amman for a period of 14 days. Families of those arriving in Jordan have been also banned from going to airports and border crossings to collect them.

The country's Syrian refugee camps will also be placed under lockdown, with aid agencies concerned that crowded conditions will spur rapid transmission of the virus if it reaches either crowded camps.

Iran reported another 129 fatalities, the largest one-day rise in deaths since it began battling the Middle East’s worst outbreak, which has claimed more than 850 lives and infected a number of senior officials in the country.

Businesses in Iran’s capital remained open, however, even as other countries in the region moved toward full lockdowns, with Lebanon largely shutting down and Iraqis racing to prepare for a curfew set to begin later this week.

The UAE carried out more than 125,000 Covid-19 tests for coronavirus, with its Ministry of Health and Prevention said claiming its testing coverage is "the highest in the world". It also suspended prayers at mosques and places of worship for four weeks.

Spain has gone into lockdown as the president's wife tested positive for the virus, Malaysia also banned all visitors and many places, including Turkey, New York and Dubai, announced the closure of bars, cinemas and other public spaces.

The divergent approaches adopted by local authorities reflect continued uncertainty over how to slow the spread of a virus that has infected around 170,000 people worldwide and caused more than 6,500 deaths.

Some have opted for an even more aggressive response. Israel, where the number of confirmed cases has more than doubled to around 250 in recent days, has authorised the use of phone-snooping technology long used against Palestinian militants to track coronavirus patients. Such practices will spark renewed debate over privacy issues as countries around the world confront the pandemic.

Health authorities across South Asia also reported rising tallies of coronavirus cases, raising the prospect of rapidly spreading outbreaks overwhelming poor medical facilities in a region that is home to a quarter of the world's people.

South Asia has been relatively lightly hit so far by the virus compared with neighbours to the east, like China and South Korea, and to the west like Iran and parts of Europe.