March 18 (UPI) — The European Union has closed its external borders to non-essential travel and airline passengers around the world moved to return home Wednesday amid new coronavrius restrictions.
The EU announced after a video conference Tuesday that all member nations unanimously agreed to reinforce the bloc’s external borders by “applying a coordinated temporary restriction of non-essential travel to the EU for a period of 30 days.”
The coronavirus epicenter has shifted from China to Europe, and the EU on Wednesday joined France, Spain and Italy in imposing border closures intended to stop the spread of the virus through social distancing.
EU officials ordered non-essential shops and open-air markets to close and urged citizens to work from home when at all possible.
As of Wednesday, nearly 200,000 confirmed cases and almost 8,000 deaths have been recorded worldwide by Johns Hopkins University.
“It is up to them now to implement — they said they will immediately do that, this is good in order to have an unanimous and united approach what the external borders are concerned,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said. “There was a lot of approval what our proposal is concerned.”
The EU restrictions are the latest in series of new measures impacting travelers abroad.
Australia has updated its global travel advisory to a “level four.” The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade urged Australians to return home as soon as possible or risk being stranded.
In Germany’s northern, western and southern borders were open only to travelers who have “valid reasons” for travel.
Russia also announced it would ban most foreign travelers from entry, and those who do enter will be required to self-isolate for 14 days.
In China, things are slowly returning to normal as the number of new cases continued to dwindle Wednesday. Hubei province, the original epicenter, has reported just one new case and 11 additional deaths.
Chinese officials have gradually relaxed lockdown measures imposed last month and local officials allowed schools to resume classes in “low risk” provinces.