March 16, 2020 4:06:30 PM
The European Union could shut its borders to non-essential travellers in a dramatic move aimed at limiting the spread of coronavirus.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen put forward a proposal for an initial 30-day ban which could be extended.
The move would have to be approved by leaders of the EU’s 27 members and would not apply to British citizens.
Ms von der Leyen said: “Here in Europe we are heavily affected by the virus and we know that everything that reduces social interaction also reduces the speed of the spread of the virus.
“The less travel, the more we can contain the spread of the virus.”
The commission chief said she was proposing to the EU’s national leaders a “temporary restriction on non-essential travel to the European Union”.
“These travel restrictions should be in place for an initial period of 30 days which can be prolonged as necessary.”
In a press conference explaining her proposal she said the ban would not apply to UK citizens.
“The UK citizens are European citizens so of course there are no restrictions for the UK citizens to travel to the continent,” she said.
The UK broke away from the EU on January 31 but remains aligned with the bloc’s single market and customs union rules during a transition period lasting until the end of the year.
The proposed ban on travel to the EU would have exemptions for long-term residents, family members of EU nationals and diplomats.
Doctors, nurses, care workers and experts tackling the coronavirus pandemic would also be exempt, Ms von der Leyen said.
The transport of goods would also be exempt from the proposed ban, she added, as would frontier workers who commute across the EU’s borders.
Meanwhile, the next phase of talks between the UK and EU on the future relationship remains uncertain as a result of the virus outbreak.
Teams of negotiators had been due to meet in London on Wednesday for the second round of talks on the proposed trade deal, but face-to-face meetings have been ruled out as a result of coronavirus.
Downing Street said alternative ways to hold the talks between the UK side led by David Frost and the EU’s team led by Michel Barnier were being examined.
“We continue to hold discussions with the EU on seeing if we can find a way of facilitating the talks to take place, such as teleconferencing,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said.