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EU Locks Down Borders To Try To Slow Spread Of COVID-19


The European Union is closing its borders to non-EU residents. The travel ban will last for 30 days, and it's aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Movement within the EU will still be allowed, with individual nations free to use their own discretion to mitigate the crisis. NPR's Rob Schmitz joins us now from Berlin to talk about this. Hey, Rob.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: What other details can you share about this move by the EU, and why is it happening now?

SCHMITZ: So the EU has officially imposed a 30-day entry ban for non-EU citizens. And exceptions to this are citizens of Great Britain, Norway, Switzerland and Andorra, as well as third country nationals with long-term residence rights in an EU country. As to why now, as we've seen, Rachel, the threat of this pandemic and the response to it from individual countries is changing on a daily basis. And there was consensus among EU leaders that together they needed to take drastic action like this to slow the spread of this pandemic. And let's not forget too that the U.S. closed its borders to EU citizens last week. So European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen explained why this is happening yesterday, and here's what she said.


URSULA VON DER LEYEN: This is an external shock. And it hits the whole world. We have never had that before. The enemy is a virus. And now we have to do our utmost to protect our people and to protect our economies.

MARTIN: So what about within the EU? I mean, how are the member nations trying to stop the virus from spreading from one another?

SCHMITZ: Well, this is, of course, a very big topic here in Europe. Each member state has made its own decisions on closing its own borders and to whom it will close borders to. And this has caused a bit of chaos within the EU. You know, the EU is set up like the U.S. People from one member country can freely travel to another one. And these internal border closings sort of threaten the freedom of movement, and in a broader sense, the cohesion of the EU itself.

European Commission President von der Leyen strongly condemned these internal border closures yesterday, urging member states to open their borders again so that people who are stranded within the EU are able to go back home, and so that commuters, especially health workers who work across a national border, are able to continue to do that. But so far, we're not seeing much of a reaction to her criticism, and many borders within the EU remain closed. Many European countries have fallen back on fending for themselves in this sense.

MARTIN: So the big news here in the U.S. today is the financial package that the Trump administration is asking for from Congress, a trillion dollars to deal with this. Is the EU thinking about something similar?

SCHMITZ: It's not a trillion dollars here, but this is a big concern. You know, the EU was looking forward to a year of steady growth, but now it's clear that it's heading towards recession. You know, across the continent, shops, restaurants, tourist sites are closed. Supply chains are frozen, soccer matches canceled. The stock market has plunged. Last Friday, the EC, the European Commission, launched a strong economic package to help businesses and families, you know, putting aside more than $40 billion to handle the fallout.

Member states are also passing stimulus packages of their own here in Germany. The government has set aside its budget surplus from last year to address this. But apart from these aid packages, you know, the EU is focused on stopping the spread of this virus and helping those who are infected by it. And it's launched a public procurement for gloves, masks, ventilators - you name it - that they're going to need as this crisis evolves.

MARTIN: NPR's Rob Schmitz reporting from Berlin.

We appreciate it. Thank you.

SCHMITZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.

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