EU to close borders to most foreign travellers for 30 days to curb coronavirus

The leaders of European Union nations have agreed to implement a travel ban that prevents most foreigners entering any of the 27 nations for 30 days in a bid to quash the spread of coronavirus.

EU leaders agreed on Tuesday to shut down the bloc's external borders immediately for tourism or non-essential business.

Long-term EU residents, diplomats, members of European families, health care and transport workers will all be exempt from the ban.

Separately, so-called “green lanes” will be set up at the internal borders of the 26 Schengen countries, allowing fast-track access for trucks ferrying essential supplies to defy the traffic jams that have begun forming at some crossing points.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. Credit: AP

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the proposal by EU officials “got a lot of support by the member states.

"It’s up to them now to implement.

"They said they will immediately do that”.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that European leaders agreed in a conference call to the Commission’s proposal for an entry ban with “very, very limited exceptions”.

The EU leaders also agreed to coordinate the repatriation of EU citizens stranded outside the bloc, she said.

It was EU leaders' second Covid-19 summit in as many weeks as Europe took over from China as the hotbed of new cases.

The virus case count in Europe has climbed to more than 50,000 and more than 2,000 people have died.

In the UK, 71 people who have tested positive for Covid-19 have died and there have been 1,950 confirmed cases.

However, the Government's Chief Scientific Advisor believes the number of undetected cases could be around 55,000.

The inexorable spread of the disease has roiled markets and sown public fear, but nervous governments have introduced quick-fix measures - partial border closures or quarantine - with little consultation.

Traffic jams have been forming at the crossing points of European borders. Credit: AP

After Italy, ground zero in Europe’s battle with coronavirus, Spain and now France have imposed lock-downs, confining citizens to their homes except for urgent business like buying food or heading to any hospital that might still have the capacity to treat them.

Seven countries have informed the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, that they’ve reintroduced ID checks inside Europe’s passport-free Schengen Area.

Among them are Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland, which all took unilateral action to halt the influx of migrants in 2015.

The main problem confronting the leaders, as they met in a virtual online video-conference from their offices in the bloc’s 27 capitals, is to halt the arrival of more virus cases, coordinate any border closures and guarantee that vital medical equipment and food can reach those in need.