Mon | Jul 13, 2020

EU wants borders free of virus restrictions by end of June

Published:Saturday | June 6, 2020 | 12:03 PM
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (right) and his Italian counterpart Luigi Di Maio wear face masks to protect against the coronavirus during a meeting in Berlin, Germany, Friday, June 5, 2020. (Michael Kappeler/Pool via AP)

BRUSSELS (AP) — Europe could have its free travel zone up and running again by the end of this month, but travellers from further afield will not be allowed in before July, a European Union commissioner said Friday after talks among the bloc’s interior ministers.

Panicked by Italy’s coronavirus outbreak in February, countries in the 26-nation Schengen travel zone — where people and goods move freely without border checks — imposed border restrictions without consulting their neighbours to try to keep the disease out.

The moves caused massive border traffic jams and blocked medical equipment.

Free movement is a jewel in Europe’s crown that helps its businesses flourish and many European officials feared that the very future of the Schengen area was under threat from coronavirus travel restrictions.

These added to border pressures already caused by the arrival in Europe of well over 1 million migrants in 2015.

“I personally believe that we will return to a full functioning of the Schengen area and freedom of movement of citizens no later than the end of the month of June,” European Union Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said Friday after the video-conference meeting.

All but essential travel into Europe from the outside is restricted until June 15, but many ministers suggested Friday that they want this deadline extended until early July.

The meeting came as the Czech Republic was easing restrictions with some of its neighbours; Austria, Germany and Hungary.

Also Friday, Switzerland said it plans to lift restrictions on travel from EU nations and Britain on June 15.

Switzerland is not an EU member but is part of the Schengen travel zone.

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