European countries plan a ban on entry to the 26-state Schengen passport-free travel zone in the most radical response yet to the continent’s escalating coronavirus pandemic, officials said.
The proposed action — expected to be announced later on Monday — would cover all non-essential visits from third countries, with exemptions including for citizens of the Schengen area, people familiar with the work said.
EU officials were still finalising the sweeping move, which comes after a sharp rise in cases of infection in Europe triggered a wave of unilateral decisions by member states to all but seal their borders. The European Commission plan will still need to be signed off by national leaders, while officials stressed details remained under discussion and could change ahead of the announcement.
The commission declined to comment.
The ban is aimed at non-essential travel to the Schengen area in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus across Europe, officials said. The Schengen countries include 22 EU members, as well as Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. The five EU states not in Schengen — Ireland, Cyprus, Croatia, Romania and Bulgaria — may be invited to also implement the restrictions, officials said.
The status of the UK — which is in a post-Brexit transition period after leaving the EU in January — was not immediately clear.
Exemptions to the ban under discussion include EU citizens, residents and their family members, as well as workers in crucial sectors such as healthcare and transport, officials said.
Diplomats said that the measure was discussed on a phone call this morning between French president Emmanuel Macron, German chancellor Angela Merkel and the heads of the European Commission and Council.
On the call, Mr Macron attacked national moves to close borders and called for a European response.
Brussels is set to announce the plan after a video conference among G7 leaders this afternoon.