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6th Apr 2020

Coronavirus

EU experts: closing borders 'ineffective' for coronavirus

  • The World Health Organization continues to believe that the virus 'has pandemic potential' as it has recently spread to 50 different countries worldwide, including 19 in Europe (Photo: johnnyalive)

EU experts said on Thursday (27 February) that refusing entry to an EU country of people with coronavirus symptoms would be counter-productive and "ineffective" to prevent the spread of the virus.

"Refusal of entry is not considered an appropriate preventive measure as the virus would spread further" since those potential patients would keep moving in the region without being treated, EU sources said.

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Instead, the experts advised having "systematic" checks for all those arriving, ensuring a coordinated approach between border guards and national authorities, as well as a real-time exchange of information.

The principle of free movement of people in the EU was already in danger in 2015 when some member states introduced border check due to the migration crisis.

Today, six countries - Germany, France, Austria, Denmark, Sweden and Norway - still have temporary border controls to prevent irregular migrant flows.

However, any member state can notify the EU authorities of the intention of closing borders temporary due to the coronavirus outbreak - a decision that can only be made by member states and that cannot be vetoed by the European Commission. None have yet done so.

If national authorities decide to introduce this exceptional measure, it must be justified passing a "test of proportionality".

Medical equipment

Additionally, the commission is working on a joint procurement to ensure there is enough protective and medical equipment for health-care workers - and other authorities like the army - over fears that the outbreak of the coronavirus could lead to a supply shortage in some member states.

However, this joint initiative has not been launched yet but there is an "increasing interest" among member states to be part of it, EU sources told reporters in Brussels.

The World Health Organization (WHO) continues to believe that the virus "has pandemic potential" as it recently spread to 50 different countries worldwide, including 19 in Europe.

The director general of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom, insisted that detecting cases early and isolating patients is key to avoiding the spread of the virus.

"This is not a time for fear but a time for taking action now to prevent infection and save lives now," Adhanom said.

"Fear and panic do not help," he added.

However, according to EU experts other seasonal diseases, such as the flu, might make it difficult to differentiate and identify coronavirus cases early.

As of 27 February 2020, 82,588 laboratory-confirmed cases of coronavirus have been reported worldwide, as well as 2,814 deaths - most of them in China - and 33,345 recoveries.

Within a few days, cases of coronavirus in Italy, the most-affected country in the EU, have risen to over 600, with 17 deaths.

Economic impact

According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), the risk of infection in the EU as a whole is currently considered to be low to moderate, because all counties have a good level of healthcare preparedness.

However, EU experts warned that the risk of having "clusters", similar to those registered in Italy, in other member states is currently moderate to high.

Meanwhile, financial analysts warned that the coronavirus outbreak could trigger economic damage on the scale of the 2008 financial crisis - when global GDP fell by 0.5 percent.

The European Central Bank governing council member Klaas Knot said on Thursday that the coronavirus outbreak is likely to have a bigger impact on the global economy that Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) had 20 years ago - when it wiped €36.4bn off world equity markets.

"Although it is still too early to accurately measure the impact of this pandemic, it is safe to say that the hit to the global economy will be more severe", Knot said at a speech in Amsterdam.

WHO on coronavirus in Europe: 'be prepared'

The European Commission also urged EU member states to review their pandemic plans and to inform it about their healthcare capabilities in response to the outbreak.

No risk yet to Schengen from Italy's coronavirus outbreak

While the numbers of coronavirus cases rising in Italy, EU authorities urge member states to introduce proportional and coordinated measures, based on scientific advice and risk-assessment evidence - but travel and trade restrictions are not recommended at the moment.

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