International desk – The European Union has decided to impose a ban on travellers from outside the bloc for 30 days in an unprecedented move to seal its borders amid the coronavirus crisis.
The measure is expected to apply to 26 EU states as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. UK citizens will be unaffected.
The ban came as deaths continued to soar in Italy and Spain, and France began a strict lockdown as Europe badly hit by the virus that killed more than 7,500 people globally.
The virus has infected more than 185,000 people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.
The travel ban will affect all non-EU nationals from visiting the bloc, except long-term residents, family members of EU nationals and diplomats, cross-border and healthcare workers, and people transporting goods.
The global epidemic has forced the EU, which nurses a border-free Europe under Schengen scheme, to propose that the bloc act in a more unified fashion and restrict entry to the union as a whole, at the urging of French President Emmanuel Macron.
The measures were agreed in a video-summit between EU leaders on Tuesday afternoon and will now have to be implemented by member states.
“They said they will immediately do that,” said EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen at a press conference. “This is good, so that we have a unanimous and united approach [where] the external borders are concerned.”
The UK and the Republic of Ireland – which is part of the EU but not Schengen – will be invited to join the measure, according to BBC.
It was also crucial that the EU “unblocks the situation” with regards to closed internal borders, Von der Leyen said, because “too many people are stranded”.