Coronavirus: EU Commissioners reluctant to impose travel restrictions

Coronavirus: EU Commissioners reluctant to impose travel restrictions
Credit: Belga

The European Commission is stepping up its response, preparedness and financial support to fight the outbreak of the coronavirus but says that it is too early to consider coordinated travel restrictions by the EU.

At a press briefing this morning (24 February), two Commissioners outlined the evolving situation and described the measures EU is taken to contain the spread of the virus. Janez Lenarcic, Commissioner for crisis management, said that EU’s first priority is to contain the virus but also to make preparations in time.

He underlined the importance of a coordinated approach, including cross-sector coordination inside EU member states. EU is also going to mobilise €230 million for the global fight against the virus, among others to support research and the World Health Organisation (WHO).

“The virus knows no borders,” said Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner for health and food safety. She had been following the latest development in northern Italy and commended the Italian authorities for their swift and efficient measures.

The situation is serious and requires a coherent and coordinated approach, she said. This morning there will be a meeting with the member states in the health committee. Kyrikiades also announced that the WHO together with an EU agency would travel to Italy tomorrow to assess the situation there.

After their introductions, both Commissioners were pressured by questions as to whether the Commission is considering any coordinated action on travel restrictions and border checks. Their common reply was that it would be too early to decide on such measures.

Both Commissioners stressed that decisions on travel restrictions fall under the competency of the member states. Decisions should also meet three conditions, Lenarcic said. They should be based on credible risk assessment and scientific advice; they should be proportionate and they should be taken in coordination with the member states.

Kyrikiades described the situation as unfolding and complicated and seemed more open for a decision on travel restrictions but referred to WHO. “For the moment, WHO has not advised any travel restrictions.” That said, the Commission will await the results of the mission to Italy tomorrow.

The only travel advice the Commission has issued until now is to its own staff which has been advised to avoid non-essential travel to China, Hong Kong and Macao.

The Brussels Times

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