UPDATED: March 18th, 2020

The European Union will be closing all of its external borders for third-country nationals, according to the EU’s guidelines announced to slow down the spread of the Coronavirus among European citizens.

The European Commission announced on Monday 16, 2020 its health-related border management measures to avoid a further spread of the virus known as Covid-19. The most important proposal is the temporary non-essential travel scheme, which translates into a 30-day entry restriction and the closure of all external borders for third-country nationals who were planning on visiting the European Union.

“It is important that our healthcare system is able to deal with the number of patients that are severely ill and, therefore, it is of our utmost importance to (...) slow down social context, to slow down public life and to slow down the spread of the virus”, said Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, on a press conference offered along with Charles Michel, President of the European Council, after their video call with members of the G7 group.

Nonetheless, von der Leyen specified there will be exemptions for these 30-day entry restrictions to the EU. The list of citizens that will be allowed to enter Europe when the non-essential travel measure takes place includes but is not limited to the following groups:

  • UE citizens coming back to their countries of residence (therefore, the entry restrictions will apply in the EU’s external borders only).
  • Healthcare workers, such as doctors and nurses.
  • Members of the scientific community working on the solutions for this health crisis.
  • Citizens commuting on borders (e.g., workers who need to provide services on both sides of the border).

According to Michel, this entry restriction “aims to reduce the movements that are not necessary and, at the same time, guarantee the movement of goods and to maintain the integrity of the internal market”.

The President of the European Council also took the time to express “our full support to all the health professionals who are working day and night to fight this crisis. Let’s be clear: we know that this crisis will be difficult and it will take time, so it will be essential to be united”.

Ursula von der Leyen, on the other hand, emphasized that “the EU has put in place an ambitious framework and we will not hesitate to take further actions as the situation evolves.” When asked about the United Kingdom situation, von der Leyen replied: “the UK citizens are European citizens, so of course, there are no restrictions for UK citizens to travel to the continent."

These measures, however, are still part of the guidelines that need to be revised and approved by all Member States.

Economic Measures to Slow Down the Coronavirus Impact in Europe

There are already quite a few concrete initiatives in motion to protect the European markets and to control the economic impact of the Covid-19 within the region.

The following are some of the economic measures coordinated at European level at present:

  • 37 billion euro investment made available through the ‘Corona Response Investment Initiative’ for European health care systems.
  • 8 billion euro of working capital lending for a total of 100,000 European companies.
  • 10 billion euro investment especially designated to speed up the recovery of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and midcaps. It is expected that soon another 10 billion euro would be deployed by the EU budget.

In this regard, the relation between health and economy is very tight: “The Member States, the governments and the states are doing everything they can to protect their people, but indeed we have to be very careful to find the right balance”, said von der Leyen yesterday. “On one hand, restricting the social context and, therefore, the virus to spread, but on the other hand, not to hamper our single market because right now we need a very well-functioning single-market to deliver our goods.”

The established EU economic policy regarding the Coronavirus outbreak highly suggests the creation of nationals initiatives that must work as “automatic stabilizers” to ensure the economic consequences of Covid-19 are minimal. Some of the proposals are:

  • Immediate fiscal spending to contain and treat the disease.
  • Liquidity support for local companies.
  • Short-term work support, extensions of sick pay and/or unemployment benefits for affected workers in order to “avoid employment and income losses”.

In addition to these economic measures, both von der Leyen and Michel announced the implementation of green corridors, which are fast lanes “so that the traffic jams will end and we have a fast flow of goods” within the European Union countries. This means there will also be entry restrictions for non-essential transport of goods.

The document generated by the EU with the border management guidelines specifies the regulation for these special corridors:

  • Unobstructed transport of goods should be mainly focused on “essential goods such as food supplies including livestock, vital medical and protective equipment and supplies”.
  • Facilitation of safe movement for transport works, “including truck and train drivers, pilots and aircrew across internal and external borders”.

Internal Borders vs External Borders: EU Travel Restrictions

Furthermore, European authorities have provided special recommendations when applying entry restrictions as a Member State for both internal borders and external borders.

In the case of internal borders during the Covid-19 outbreak, the European Commission and the European Council state that:

  • Member States “may reintroduce temporary border controls if justified for reasons of public policy or internal security." If so, each country must notify this decision in accordance with the Schengen Borders Code.
  • The control measures must be applied "in a proportionate manner" (i.e., without any sort of discrimination bias). For instance, if a person is clearly sick, they should not be refused entry, but they would be subject to special measures.
  • Health checks for citizens entering any Member State territory can be made without a formal reintroduction of internal border controls. These health controls should not create greater waiting times and queues, as this would increase the risk of infected people.

In the case of external borders, the EU proposes the following temporary measures:

  • Every person trying to enter the Schengen area, EU and non-EU nationals, is currently subject to systematic checks at border crossing points, which include health checks.
  • Member States can refuse entry to non-resident third-country nationals who present Covid-19 symptoms and/or have been exposed to risk conditions.
  • Any entry refusal must be proportional and non-discriminatory, “following consultation of the health authorities”. As a guideline, a non-EU citizen who is notified of an entry refusal under these special circumstances must meet the criteria of being considered a public health threat.
  • Isolation or quarantine are valid alternative measures to a refusal of entry.

In this regard, Ursula von der Leyen declared that “the utmost important issue is that neighboring countries harmonize their measures so we provide the same strong message to the people”.

Coronavirus Measures Taken by EU Member States: Main Milestones

The European Commission and the Member States have made it clear that the main goals during this health crisis must be: 1) to ensure enough capacity of the health systems and civil protection systems across Europe so the wellbeing of citizens is preserved; 2) to protect and help companies and workers that have been affected; 3) to generate a coordinated response to protect the Member States’ economies.

In that sense, during the last weeks, many Member States have put in motion a series of measures to protect its citizens and its economy from the effects of the Covid-19. The following is a brief timeline of the main milestones by EU country, as well as other important data related to the spread of the virus worldwide:

Global statistics about the Covid-19

  • Number of confirmed Coronavirus cases worldwide: 182,413 (as of 03/17)
  • Countries with the largest number of cases worldwide (in order): China, Italy, Iran, Spain.

Italy

  • February 21, 2020 — First Covid-19 case is detected in Codogno, province of Lodi, Lombardy (north of Italy)
  • March 10, 2020: — Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte declares the ‘red zone’ alert for the entire country
  • March 16, 2020 — The government approves 25 billion euros ($28 billion) of spending measures to slow down the spread of the virus
  • March 17, 2020 — Current mortality rate: 6,6%. The country is about to reach 30,000 confirmed cases and over 2,000 deaths

France

  • March 17, 2020 — Emmanuel Macron warns ‘we are at war’ as announces the release of 45 billion euros ($50 billion) to help small businesses and employees struggling with the current health outbreak
  • March 19, 2020 — The country closes its borders

Spain

  • January 31, 2020 — La Gomera, in the Canary Islands, registers the first case of Coronavirus, a citizen of Germany who is isolated and analyzed by healthcare professionals
  • February 24, 2020 — The number of cases rapidly grows due to the arrival of infected citizens who recently traveled to Italy
  • March 14, 2020 — Pedro Sánchez declares the state of alarm nationwide
  • March 17, 2020 — The Council of Ministers presents a package of economic measures to reduce the negative effects provoked by the Covid-19 for a total of 200 billion euro injected into the economy, which represents nearly 20% of Spain’s annual GDP

United Kingdom

  • March 3, 2020 — The prime minister Boris Johnson proposes a plan for ‘herd immunity’ within the nation as a way to reduce transmission and announces the government will no longer try to track and trace the contacts of every suspected case
  • March 16, 2020 — A new report, prepared by a team of experts from London’s Imperial College, warns the current public health threat is the "most serious" from a respiratory virus since the Spanish Flu in 1918
  • March 17, 2020 — The government warns Britons to avoid non-essential contact as Covid-19 death toll rises