Coronavirus: Europe closes its external borders

Leaders of the European Union have agreed to close the EU's external borders for 30 days amid the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced the planned border closures during a press conference on Tuesday (local time).

Movement within the 27 European Union member nations will still be permitted.

The travel ban will affect all non-EU nationals from visiting the bloc, excluding long-term residents, family members of EU nationals and diplomats, cross-border and healthcare workers and people transporting goods, reports.

UK citizens will reportedly be exempt from the travel restrictions. 

"The union and its member states will do whatever it takes," European Council President Charles Michel said, as reported by CNBC.

The 30-day ban on incoming travel was proposed by European Union executives on Monday (local time).

"The less travel, the more we can contain the virus. Therefore... I propose to the heads of state and government introduce a temporary restriction on non-essential travel to the EU," European Commission chief Ursula Von der Leyen said.

"These travel restrictions should be in place for an initial period of 30 days, but can be prolonged as necessary."

An EU official said "Ireland and the UK... are encouraged to align" with the entry ban. Ireland is not a member of the Schengen Area and Britain left the EU in January. Von der Leyen said the UK is not currently planning to implement any similar border restrictions. 

"We do know the threat is already inside, the threat is not coming from the outside anymore. So it's more about political messaging," another EU official said on the condition of anonymity.

The EU is an economic and political union of European countries, including Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden.

The Schengen Area comprises 26 European states that have abolished all types of border control at their mutual borders. Of the 27 EU member states, 22 participate in the Schengen Area. Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania are not members of Schengen but are legally obliged to join, while Ireland opted out.

On Monday (local time), French President Emmanuel Macron ordered all residents and non-residents to remain at home for up to 15 days, except for absolute essentials.