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Europe, Canada, U.K. Limit Travel in Attempt to Seal Out Virus

Nikos Chrysoloras, Viktoria Dendrinou and Milda Seputyte

(Bloomberg) --

The European Union proposed a temporary halt to non-essential travel, while Canada and the U.K. placed restrictions on who can enter the country, further steps to firm up the world’s borders to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

The measures are meant to suppress transmission of the deadly virus, which has killed more than 7,000 lives worldwide. But they will deepen the economic toll on the travel industry and provide fresh challenges for trade and for families separated by borders. The decisions follow U.S. President Donald Trump’s move to ban travelers from Europe for 30 days.

The EU’s proposal Monday followed a series of tighter rules on international travel in the U.S. and Europe, and closures of public spaces, restaurants and movie theaters in cities including New York and Los Angeles.

In a memo sent to EU governments, and seen by Bloomberg, the European Commission said the ban on incoming visits to Europe and the restrictions to outgoing travel are aimed at lifting an ever growing number of internal border closings, which have disrupted free movement within the bloc -- one of the key pillars of European integration.

In Canada, foreigners won’t be able to cross the border except for Americans. International flights will be restricted to four airports, except for those from Mexico, the Caribbean and the U.S. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the move at a press conference Monday outside his residence in Ottawa, where the leader remains in self isolation after his wife contracted the illness.

In the U.K., Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged the public to avoid unnecessary travel, among other steps to limit the spread of the virus.

The airline industry is reeling from such decisions and pushing for government aid and bailouts. The collapse in travel stands to wipe out more than $60 billion revenue in Europe alone, according to one estimate. In the U.S., the industry is seeking $58 billion in government aid.

In an unusually blunt admission, the EU’s executive arm also warned the travel restrictions may not be effective in slowing the spread of the virus.

The desperate move comes as member states erect unprecedented barriers within the EU’s boundaries, halting the normal free flow that underpins the livelihoods of 500 million people and prompting output cuts at manufacturers including PSA Group and Volkswagen AG, Europe’s two largest carmakers.

A 32-kilometer (20-mile) tailback of trucks on the border between Poland and Lithuania is the latest indicator of how the coronavirus is bogging down Europe’s economy. Like most in the 27-nation bloc, Poland is desperate to keep a lid on the outbreak of the disease, but national measures have gummed up supply routes.

Alongside the internal snarls of traffic, there’s a similar story on the periphery: Ukraine, which enjoys free trade with the EU, has closed 150 customs checkpoints. Bulgaria says trucks trying to leave for Turkey along a critical transport corridor face “significant” delays. Sea cargo from China is being held for at least 14 days at Romania’s Constanta port.

Health-care professionals, frontier workers, diplomats and people in need of humanitarian protection are exempt from the proposed travel ban. Also travel between the U.K. and EU will be allowed, under the plan, which is due to last for a month but could be extended. EU leaders are scheduled to adopt the proposal over a conference call on Tuesday.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke Monday with French President Emmanuel Macron, European Council chief Charles Michel and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen about ways to coordinate and unify “measures to ensure the functionality of the domestic market.”

--With assistance from William Horobin, Daryna Krasnolutska, Andra Timu, Boris Groendahl, Patrick Donahue, Birgit Jennen, Joao Lima, Kati Pohjanpalo, Christoph Rauwald and Rodrigo Orihuela.

To contact the reporters on this story: Nikos Chrysoloras in Brussels at nchrysoloras@bloomberg.net;Viktoria Dendrinou in Brussels at vdendrinou@bloomberg.net;Milda Seputyte in Vilnius at mseputyte@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chad Thomas at cthomas16@bloomberg.net, Andrew Langley, Chris Reiter

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