Roundup: EU member states endorse travel restriction to bloc amid coronavirus concerns
BRUSSELS, March 17 (Xinhua) -- The heads of state and government of the European Union (EU) agreed during a video conference on Tuesday to endorse a temporary restriction on travels to the EU territory amid coronavirus concerns.
The move came in parallel with a spiraling number of European countries taking draconian domestic measures to slow down the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
According to data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, the coronavirus has infected over 61,000 people in Europe as of 8:00 a.m. Tuesday.
EU ENTRY BAN
"We agree to reinforce our external borders by applying a coordinated temporary restriction of non-essential travel to the EU for a period of 30 days, based on the approach proposed by the commission," said Charles Michel, President of the European Council, at a press conference following the video conference.
Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, said the entry restriction proposal won a lot of support from the member states, and it is up to them to implement.
"They said they will immediately do that. This is good," von der Leyen said.
Another big topic of the conference was concerning the tense border control between some member states, which made people stranded abroad and lorries queuing for border checks.
Von der Leyen urged the states to loosen the blockage. "The flow of goods has to be swift. We need these goods for the functioning of the internal market."
To address the acute shortage of personal protective equipment, the European Commission launched public procurement for gloves, masks and respiratory ventilators, and discussed with the industry on ramping up production on the medical goods.
"We have never had that before. The enemy is a virus, and now we have to do our utmost to protect our people and to protect our economies," said von der Leyen.
Following the video conference, Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa announced that all flights to and from non-EU countries will be suspended from Wednesday midnight for 30 days.
The Greek government also declared Tuesday the closure of national borders to non-EU citizens, with exceptions strictly for urgent family or business reasons, starting at 6:00 a.m. local time on Wednesday.
DRACONIAN DOMESTIC MEASURES
Both Luxembourg and Moldova joined the rank of countries declaring a state of emergency on Tuesday -- for three months and 60 days, respectively.
"Stay at home," said Luxembourg's Prime Minister Xavier Bettel at the Chamber of Deputies, the country's 60-member parliament. "This is the rule. Don't go out except for urgent and unavoidable trips."
In neighboring Belgium, Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes announced on Tuesday evening that citizens are required to stay home from Wednesday to April 5, except for travels deemed essentials, like going to pharmacies, banks and supermarkets.
In Denmark, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen proclaimed that gatherings of more than ten people will be banned in the Nordic country from Wednesday. Restaurants, cafes, sports facilities, night clubs, and discos must close from 10 a.m. Wednesday till March 30.
In Serbia, the government decided that from Wednesday, citizens older than 65 in cities and 70 in rural areas will no longer be allowed to go out at all, while all other citizens will have to stay home between 8. p.m. and 5.a.m. Only people on assignments and employees in the third shift are exempt from the ban.
Finland's government Tuesday used the fast track option of the Emergency Powers Act to order immediate control of the country's reserves of pharmaceuticals and medical equipment. It took effect without submission to the parliament.