European Union interior ministers on Friday were trying to coordinate their response to the novel coronavirus as cases spread throughout the 27-nation bloc and countries took individual measures to slow the disease down.
With Italy at the epicenter of Europe’s outbreak, some of its neighbors, like Austria and Slovenia, have begun taking steps to restrict traffic at their borders, raising questions about the movement of food and medical equipment. But other nations, like the Czech Republic and Poland, are taking action too.
“The problem is on different levels in different countries,” Swedish Interior Minister Mikael Damberg told reporters in Brussels, but he said “we hope that all countries that take new measures also inform other European countries.”
“The transportation system must work when it comes to food and to health care materials and these kinds of things that are important to all European countries so that we don’t make problems for each other handling the crisis,” Damberg said.
The coronavirus is now present in all 27 EU countries. More than 22,000 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed across Europe, and more than 1,000 people have died on the continent.
Individual EU member countries are responsible for health and public safety, and the bloc’s institutions have a very limited role to play in halting the spread of the disease.
Croatian Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic, who is chairing the talks because his country currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency, said “this crisis shows that as a European Union we need to have models to act in a more coordinated way.”
“If we are acting in one way it would be much better for all of us,” he said.
“A lot of people are of course concerned now, and the responsibility for us is to limit contagion and protect capacity,” said EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson. “All measures should be coordinated, operational, proportionate and effective.”
Many EU meetings have been canceled due to the virus, with these talks being among the rare exceptions. Two ministerial sessions, between health and interior ministers, were held via video-conference this week.
The ministers were also expected to discuss the 30-day travel ban imposed by President Donald Trump on Europeans leaving the 26-nation ID check-free zone, known as the Schengen Area, to the United States. EU leaders have lamented that the move was taken without consultation involving a disease that knows no borders.
The Schengen area includes many EU members but also other countries including Switzerland, Norway and Iceland.
The measures announced by Trump don’t apply to the United Kingdom, Ireland or any of the Balkan countries. He has branded COVID-19 a “foreign virus” and claimed that European travelers “seeded” infection clusters in the United States.
“I hope Mr Trump understands that you can’t make a deal with a virus,” said Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn.