Coronavirus: Europe to remain closed to the world until later in the year

European Commission unveils Covid-19 exit strategy, including plans for travel from non-EU nations

epa08363941 The President of European Commission Ursula von der Leyen holds a press conference on the European Union (EU) response to the coronavirus COVID-19 disease crisis at the EU headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on April 15, 2020.  EPA/JOHN THYS / POOL
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The EU has announced the resumption of travel to Europe from outside its borders will not be phased in until after internal restrictions for the coronavirus are lifted, probably later in 2020.

Presenting a roadmap for removal of lockdown restrictions across the 27 member states, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday said Europe would not return to normality until a vaccine against Covid-19 became available.

Ms von der Leyen said that in the meantime, any easing of restrictions could only be temporary as it would “unavoidably” create a sudden rise in new cases.

About 80,000 people, or two thirds of the global toll, have died in Europe from Covid-19, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control says.

France to lift lockdown in May

France to lift lockdown in May

Ms von der Leyen said the EU would gradually lift travel and internal restrictions, starting with journeys “between areas with comparably low levels of risk”.

She said borders would have to be closely monitored in areas where one side had reopened but the other remained under lockdown measures.

If managed incorrectly, travel over borders could again risk a resurgence of cases.

The opening of Europe’s external borders would have to come later, the European Commission said, with each nation being judged on its coronavirus situation before travel could resume.

With some nations under lockdown restrictions for more than a month, those such as Austria and Denmark, which have been spared the worst of the pandemic, have cautiously relaxed measures.

The EU has said it will only consider easing emergency measures after infections have decreased significantly for a sustained period.

It said hospitals must also have enough beds and capacity for testing to monitor the spread of the virus must be available.

Brussels is looking to redeem itself with its plan to reopen Europe.

The 27-member bloc is deeply concerned about the damage that could be done if each EU nation charted its own course.

There was panic after the pandemic first spread in Italy, with unannounced border closures sparking huge traffic jams and export bans depriving hard-hit countries of medical equipment.

The EU was also criticised over the initial announcement of its exit strategy, which members states said gave the wrong message while they were trying to persuade millions of citizens to stay at home.

"This is not a signal that confinement, containment measures can be lifted as of now," Ms von der Leyen said on Wednesday.