EU President Admits That Europe ‘Underestimated’ Coronavirus

President of European Commission, Ursula Von der Leyen, gives a press conference after EU leaders' video conference on COVID-19, caused by the novel coronavirus, at the European Council building in Brussels, on March 17, 2020. (Photo by Aris Oikonomou / AFP) (Photo by ARIS OIKONOMOU/AFP via Getty Images)
ARIS OIKONOMOU/AFP via Getty Images

The president of the European Commission admitted that leaders in the EU “underestimated” the scale of the coronavirus outbreak, as the bloc has closed its external borders to foreign travellers.

On Tuesday, Ursula von der Leyen said that Europe is now the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic and that measures which seemed “drastic” and “draconian” just weeks ago are now necessary to fight the spread of the killer virus.

“I think we all, who are not experts, initially underestimated the coronavirus. But in the meantime it has also become clear that this is a virus that will keep us busy for a long time,” von der Leyen told the German newspaper, Bild.

“It’s very difficult, but I think the population is doing well with it,” she added.

European leaders agreed to shut down the external border to the EU, banning foreign travellers from entering the bloc for an initial 30-day period. Non-EU Schengen countries Norway, Iceland, Switzerland, and Lichtenstein were also asked to abide by the entry ban.

“First, it is important that no more people come to Europe, get sick, and continue to burden the health system. Our health system is already extremely stressed. And the reverse also applies: people who have travelled to Europe and then leave again and possibly take the virus with them, this is also a threat to the world as a whole,” von der Leyen said.

Many countries within the EU have already moved to restrict the travel within the bloc to limit the virus from spreading. The leaders did agree, however, to establish ‘fast-track’ lanes for shipments of supplies to the hardest-hit areas, as cargo trucks have been backed up along borders.

The president of the Commission said: “I hope that in the next few days we will be able to get smooth border traffic again, but overall it has dropped significantly. If you don’t have to travel further or have to travel long distances, you should stay at home.”

Germany said that it has already begun turning away non-EU citizens who arrived on Wednesday at Frankfurt Airport.

“So far, we’ve had around 140 people that have had their entry refused,” Reza Ahmari, the public relations director for the German Federal Police at Frankfurt Airport told Deutsche Welle.

“The new measures affect around 120 flights today at the Frankfurt airport. And we have around 9,000 passengers that we have to review,” he added.

The admission by Ms von der Leyen that the EU “underestimated” the severity of the virus comes just one week after the bloc criticised President Donald Trump for imposing a travel ban on the Schengen Zone nations.

Mr Trump argued that the European Union had failed to take the necessary “precautions and restrict travel from China and other hotspots” in the face of the growing coronavirus pandemic.

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