Thursday

24th Sep 2020

Coronavirus

EU warning after Hungary unilaterally shuts borders

  • 'You cannot be successful together if you are not successful one by one,' said Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban during an event in Slovenia on Monday (Photo: Council of the European Union)

The European Commission warned on Monday (31 August) that border closures are "not efficient" as measures to fight the Covid-19 pandemic - after Hungary unilaterally decided to reintroduce travel restrictions on all foreigners, in a bid to halt coronavirus infections.

From Tuesday (1 September), Hungary will close its borders to all foreigners - with a few exceptions for military convoys humanitarian transit, business or diplomatic travel, as well as travelers from Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

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Additionally, Hungarian citizens returning from abroad will have to self-quarantine for two weeks, or until they provide authorities with two negative test results - whose cost will be at their own expense for non-essential travelling.

"Solidarity means common success," said Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban during an event in Slovenia on Monday.

"[But] you cannot be successful together if you are not successful one-by-one," he added.

Hungary recorded its highest peak of coronavirus infections on Sunday, with 292 new cases in the past 24 hours - a figure exceeding the previous peak, on 10 April with 210 new daily infections.

In total, the country registered as of Monday a total of 6,139 coronavirus infections - with 1,763 active cases.

"The number of infections has increased […] and most of these originate from abroad," said the chief of Orban's cabinet, Gergely Gulyás, last week - adding that the measures were needed to allow the new school year to start.

In the previous recommendations to member states issued in July, the EU executive called on member states to replace restrictions on free movement with more "targeted measures", which should be limited in time and geographical scope.

The EU guidelines also state that all new measures should be "coordinated, proportionate and non-discriminatory".

However, Hungary did not inform the commission or member states about its new measures during the last official meeting - which took place last Friday (29 August).

Lack of coordination - again?

Additionally, recent reports indicate that Polish authorities are planning to extend their coronavirus ban on international air flights from 46 countries.

Those countries include France, Spain, Croatia and Romania as well as Montenegro, the United States, Israel, Mexico and Brazil, according to Reuters.

Other neighbouring countries have so far refused to close their borders again.

Slovakia's parliament speaker Boris Kollár, his Czech counterpart Radek Vondráček and Austrian counterpart Wolfgang Sobotka said on Sunday that closing borders would be the last option on the table.

"We shouldn't be afraid. We assured one another that closing the borders would be the last thing to do," Kóllar was quoted as saying by Slovak national news agency TASR.

But, for his part, Lithuanian president Gitanas Nauseda said in early August that the EU might have to consider closing borders again if the situation keeps worsening.

Meanwhile Italy, one of the most-affected by the pandemic, is considering imposing obligatory Covid-19 testing on tourists and workers returning from France and Spain - as both countries have reported a jump in cases during the last weeks.

The EU has also tried to push member states to lift travel restrictions to third countries with a regularly-reviewed list of 'safe' countries - which includes, among others, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

EU unveils plan to counter second Covid-19 wave

The EU Commission unveiled on Wednesday a set of guidelines to strengthen the bloc's response to a potential future surge of coronavirus infections - and warned a simultaneous seasonal-flu plus Covid-19 outbreak would place a considerable strain on health systems.

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