News World EU invokes travel ban as US-Canada border closes amid coronavirus pandemic

EU invokes travel ban as US-Canada border closes amid coronavirus pandemic

People gather outside their cars during a traffic jam towards the Austrian-Hungarian border after the EU travel ban was announced. Photo: AAP
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Travellers from outside the European Union won’t be allowed to enter for 30 days as more countries lock down borders to try to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

The unprecedented measure comes as Donald Trump confirms the US-Canada border is closed to all non-essential traffic as part of the fight against COVID-19 which has now infected all 50 states.

By Thursday morning (Australian time) nations overseas had confirmed they were making rules normally not seen outside wartime while in Australia a sixth death from the virus was confirmed.

Among the latest strategies is a ban on children attending school in the UK. In the US, the president is deploying hospital ships to be docked near coronavirus hotspots.

Mr Trump also announced that unnecessary travel to Canada is now banned as he reached an agreement with Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau.

Under the terms of the proposed deal, the flow of goods between the two countries – which share one of the world’s largest bilateral trading relationships – would continue.

“We will be, by mutual consent, temporarily closing our Northern Border with Canada to non-essential traffic. Trade will not be affected,” Mr Trump wrote on Twitter.

At a White House press briefing on Thursday morning (Australian time), the US president – calling himself a “wartime” leader – further announced the introduction of a Korean War-era law which can force private American factories into making more medical supplies.

For now, Mr Trump said, the Defense Production Act is aimed at getting companies to manufacture “millions” of face masks and “certain pieces of equipment” including ventilators.

Mr Trump delivered remakes on the COVID-19 pandemic alongside Vice President Mike Pence during a Coronavirus Task Force briefing. Photo: AAP

EU travel ban

The EU’s ban on travellers from outside the bloc has left it scrambling to help the 80,000 citizens stuck outside Europe get home amid huge challenges, including finding flights.

Many frontiers remain open to cross-border workers and trucks carrying critical goods like food and medicine but that has led to monumental traffic jams.

To alleviate some of the pressure from eastern Europeans stuck in Austria and trying to return home, Hungary opened its borders in phases.

Bulgarian citizens were first allowed to cross in carefully controlled convoys, then Romanians had a turn. Serbs were also allowed to pass through.

But at one point early on the Austrian side, trucks were backed up for 28km and cars for 14km.

Vehicles stuck in a traffic jam towards the Austrian-Hungarian border. Photo: AAP

Italy is the European country most affected by the coronavirus, but with 60 million people locked down, it still managed to record its largest single-day jump in cases.

The Civil Protection Agency, responsible for tracking cases and deaths, revealed the number of infections rose by 4207 in just 24 hours.

UK schools close

As of Friday, schools across Britain will close their doors, affecting almost nine million British children and forcing parents to stay home from work to look after them.

Nurseries and colleges are also set to close until further notice after criticism that the government was being too slow to react to the spread of coronavirus.

“I know the situation has become increasingly challenging. I said before that if the science and the advice changed such that keeping schools open would no longer be in the best interests of children and teachers that we would act,” Education minister Gavin Williamson told parliament.

“We are now at that stage. The spike of the virus is increasing at a faster pace than anticipated.”

Schoolchildren from local schools across England at the annual Pancake race on February 25. Photo: AAP

The decision came after head-teachers were increasingly having to turn away pupils anyway because of staff shortages.

All exams will be cancelled but the government will find a way to ensure students get their qualifications, Mr Williamson said.

Eurovision postponed until next year

The Eurovision Song Contest, which was set to take place in the Netherlands in May, has been cancelled.

The European Broadcasting Union’s decision to call off performances came as the total number of infected people around the world surpassed 207,000 with over 8200 deaths. The countries with the most confirmed cases were China, Italy, Iran, Spain and Germany.

The Swiss-based EBU could not find ways around the restrictions put in place by participating broadcasters, leaving organisers “deeply disappointed” to take the decision which they expressed was the last resort.

Still, they remained “very proud” of the contest which for 64 years has united people across Europe and were already in talks with its Dutch hosts to see whether the event can be staged in the Netherland city of Rotterdam next year.

Last year alone, 182 million people tuned in to watch the song contest in Tel Aviv, Israel, according to the EBU.

“We regret this situation very much, but I can promise you: the Eurovision Song Contest will come back stronger than ever,” the show’s executive supervisor, Jon Ola Sand, said in a statement.

WHO slams Donald Trump

Mr Trump came under the fire by the World Health Organisation for repeatedly using the phrase “Chinese virus” to describe the coronavirus, most recently at the White House coronavirus press briefing on Thursday.

Mr Trump said it was ‘not racist at all’, considering it “comes from China” and “I want to be accurate”.

Executive director Mike Ryan said WHO has been clear since the beginning of the outbreak, “Viruses know no borders and they don’t care your ethnicity or the colour of your skin or how much money you have in the bank.”

“The pandemic of influenza in 2009 originated in North America and we don’t call it the ‘North American flu,’ so it’s very important that we have the same approach when it comes to other viruses,” Dr Ryan said at a WHO press briefing on Thursday.

-with AAP