Thursday

28th Jan 2021

Coronavirus

Nine EU states close borders due to virus

  • Denmark was first to seal its borders on Friday, prompting five others to follow suit (Photo: ingolf)

Nine EU states have fully sealed their borders to non-nationals over the coronavirus pandemic, despite experts saying it will do no good.

The Czech Republic, Cyprus, Denmark, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, and Spain have announced they would close borders to all foreigners.

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Some in the group, such as Denmark, made allowances for non-nationals who were delivering goods to the country.

The moves followed partial closures and extra border checks imposed by Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, and several other countries.

Germany also joined the part-closure group on Monday (16 March), by all-but sealing its frontiers with Austria, Denmark, France, and Luxembourg, while Slovenia closed its border with Italy.

On a global level, the US added Ireland and the UK to its previous travel ban on 26 EU countries.

Djibouti, Ghana, Haiti, Kenya, Libya, Morocco, Serbia, Tanzania, and Tunisia also either closed their borders entirely or banned flights from the EU.

Turkey closed borders to people from nine EU states and Russia closed land borders with Poland and Norway.

The different measures came after the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared Europe to be the new "epicentre" of the pandemic.

Numbers of infections and deaths in China, where the outbreak began, were going down.

But France (29 deaths), Italy (368), Spain (97), and the UK (14) recorded their highest fatalities in a single day on Sunday.

'Meaningless'

The border closures went against the EU principle of free movement of people and against expert advice on how to contain the spread.

For his part, Anders Tegnell, Sweden's state epidemiologist, called the Danish measures "completely meaningless".

"I have a very hard time seeing how it could help us. There is no research that shows that. On the contrary, it would hurt us economically," he said.

German health minister Jens Spahn said prior to Germany's partial closure: "The virus is in Germany, it is in Europe. That's the thought we have to get used to".

"It will still spread even if you close all the borders. Sooner or later you have to let people in or out and then it starts spreading again," he said.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen also said "general travel bans are not seen as being the most effective" by the WHO.

Border closures would cause added "social and economic" harm, she warned.

"The single market has to function. It is not good when member states take unilateral action because it always causes a domino effect and that prevents urgently needed equipment from reaching patients, from reaching hospitals and medical personnel," she said.

And Mikael Damberg, the Swedish interior minister, echoed her concern.

"The transportation system must work when it comes to food and healthcare materials ... so that we don't make problems for each other handling the crisis," Damberg said.

But none of that appeared to put off the group-of-nine who closed their frontiers.

"Free movement in the Schengen zone used to be our greatest value, but now it's become the greatest danger," Lithuanian interior minister Rita Tamašunienė said, referring to the passport-free 'Schengen' area, which covers 22 EU states as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland.

Virus politics

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, recently warned against coronavirus "nationalism" in a TV speech.

But far-right leaders in Italy and France have also seized upon the threat as a way to attack both the EU and the migrants trying to get there.

French far-right party the National Rally voiced a similar line to Lithuania's.

"The free circulation of goods and people, immigration policies, and weak controls at the borders obviously allow the exponential spread of this type of virus," Aurélia Beigneux, a far-right French MEP, has said.

Italian far-right politician Matteo Salvini and Hungary's right-wing government also blamed migrants for the disease even though there was no evidence for it.

"Allowing the migrants to land from Africa, where the presence of the virus was confirmed, is irresponsible," Salvini said.

"We observe a certain link between coronavirus and illegal migrants," Hungary's national security advisor György Bakondi has also said.

This story was amended after Hungary and Spain announced border closures on Monday

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