EU Dismisses Coronavirus Threat, Refuses to Consider Border Control As Virus Spreads Across Europe

Italian Finance guards (Guardia di Finanza) officers patrol by a check-point at the entrance of the small town of Zorlesco, southeast of Milan, on February 24, 2020, situated in the red zone of the COVID-19 the novel coronavirus outbreak in northern Italy. - Italy, the country with the most confirmed …
MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP via Getty Images

The European Union will not impose border controls to contain the spread of the deadly coronavirus, despite hundreds of cases being confirmed in Italy and new cases being confirmed across the continent.

The European Commission announced on Monday that it is currently not considering tightening border controls within the Schengen interior open-borders zone in response to the outbreak in Italy, which is now battling the largest outbreak of Coronavirus outside of Asia.

Stella Kyriakides, the EU’s Health and Food Safety Commissioner, told reporters in Brussels that the bloc was outsourcing responsibility for controlling disease in the Union to the World Health Organisation (WHO), which has yet to recommend any border controls in Europe. Consequently, the commission will not impose any restrictions.

“We are facing … an unfolding situation, a complex situation and any decisions made need to be based on risk assessment and scientific advice, and need to be proportionate,” she said according to The Guardian.

“It is important that member states fully respect the advice given from WHO and of course from ECDC, but such decisions concerning travel restrictions will always be member states’ competence and member states’ decisions,” Kyriakides added.

Today the governments of Switzerland, Austria, Spain and Croatia have all reported confirmed cases of the deadly coronavirus and an estimated 1,000 tourists are being held under quarantine in a hotel on Tenerife in the Canary Islands after an Italian doctor who was staying in the hotel tested positive for the virus.

In Italy, the epicentre of the European outbreak, there are now 322 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, with the death toll reaching 11, reports The Guardian. In an attempt to stop the virus from spreading, Italy has imposed travel restrictions for at least 50,000 people, cancelled the Venice Carnival and has closed business and schools.

In the northern regions of Emilia-Romagna, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Lombardy, Veneto and Piedmont all sporting events have been cancelled in light of the outbreak.

A government source from neighbouring Austria said on Monday that the country will not impose Schengen “general border controls”, but added that: “If we do have a confirmed case, then we will check that again.”

Under the Schengen agreement, singed in 1985, member states of the European Union agreed to enact passport-free travel, allowing people to travel freely throughout the bloc. However, countries are allowed to reimpose border controls in the event of “a serious threat to public policy or internal security”.

During the height of the European Migrant Crisis, eight countries imposed internal border restrictions on travel. The nations of France, Germany, Austria, Denmark, Sweden and Norway have all notified Brussels that they will continue to enforce border checks to combat the threat of terrorism.

Follow Kurt on Twitter at @KurtZindulka

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