Coronavirus closes borders as France shuts down

European countries close borders to each other and rest of world as Macron declares total lockdown

European nations are closing their borders to each other and to the rest of the world to try to curb the spread of coronavirus, reversing decades of efforts to ease movement within a matter of days.

French president Emmanuel Macron confined citizens to their homes for 15 days and banned even family gatherings, declaring the country was "in a war" with the virus after the country's top health official said prior restrictions had failed to halt its spread.

"We need to be able to protect ourselves and curb the spread of this virus," Mr Macron said in a televised address to the nation on Monday night after cases in France reached 6,633.

"In light of that, this morning, as Europeans, we made a shared decision. As of tomorrow midday, the European Union borders and the Schengen borders will be closed." The European Commission has proposed barring travel from the rest of the world to the EU for at least 30 days, with exemptions for citizens returning home, commuters and essential workers.


The Irish Government has said the plan is optional for Ireland as it is outside the Schengen free-movement zone.

“Under no circumstances will a closure of the land border North/South be considered,” a government spokesman said.

Streamlined passage

The commission has appealed to member states not to bar the sick and to keep the bloc's single market running by allowing goods vehicles streamlined passage, after a cascade of countries including Germany and Spain abruptly decided to put up checks. Canada also announced sweeping restrictions barring most foreign nationals from entry.

All rail and air traffic has been suspended between Portugal and Spain, which with nearly 10,000 coronavirus cases and 342 deaths is Europe's worst-hit country after Italy. There, 2,158 people have died of nearly 28,000 confirmed cases.

The Netherlands announced it would aim to develop immunity to Covid-19 among its population by allowing a large part of its people to contract the virus at a controlled pace, adopting a controversial approach to the virus previously mooted by Britain.

Televised speech

"The reality is that in the near future a large part of the Dutch population will be infected with the virus," prime minister Mark Rutte said in a televised speech. "We can slow down the spread of the virus while building controlled group immunity."

The World Health Organization has questioned the basis of the herd immunity approach in evidence, saying not enough is yet known about the virus to predict whether effective immunity can be developed.

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times