Morning Brief

EU to Close Borders to Fight Coronavirus

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said move is necessary to relieve pressure on healthcare system.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen arrives for a press statement in Brussels on March 10, 2020.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen arrives for a press statement in Brussels on March 10, 2020. Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The European Union moves to ban entry for 30 days, the markets dive again, and Vladimir Putin moves one step closer to remaining in power.

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EU To Impose 30-Day Travel Ban

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen proposed a 30-day ban on travel to the European Union and Schengen zone, as the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic moves from Asia to Europe. Von der Leyen announced the proposal during a teleconference with G-7 leaders on Monday.

As the crisis has worsened, European countries had already announced their own border checks and closures but this would be the first EU-wide attempt to halt travel into the bloc. Von der Leyen said that “essential” workers would be exempt from the travel restrictions and that the impetus for the move comes from a need to “do more to reduce the huge pressure on our healthcare system.”

For the ban to work, the EU would also need the support of the four countries outside the EU but within the Schengen zone: Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland.

What’s next? Although EU leaders still need to approve the proposal, moves to close the borders of the Schengen zone appear to already be in motion. French president Emmanuel Macron confirmed the move, announcing “All travel between non-EU countries and the European Union will be suspended for 30 days,” beginning today. French citizens, he added, would be able to return home.

Will closing borders help? Given the extremely high number of existing cases inside Europe, stopping arrivals from outside the bloc may not slow the spread of the virus. The infection rate in Italy and Spain, for example, is significantly higher than in China. In a televised address to the French people, Macron declared the country was “at war” and movement within France will also be restricted beginning today through at least the end of March. People have been instructed to stay home apart from essential activities like shopping for food. Those violating the order face punishment.

Is Britain doing anything to slow the spread? Amid confusion over the United Kingdom’s seemingly nonchalant approach to combating the coronavirus outbreak—which many public health experts have deemed reckless—Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave clearer recommendations Monday on how Britons should approach their daily lives. “Now is the time for everyone to stop non-essential contact with others and to stop all unnecessary travel. We need people to start working from home where they possibly can. And you should avoid pubs, clubs, theaters and other such social venues,” he said. Unlike in other countries, no order to close such venues has been issued yet.


What We’re Following Today

Markets dive, again. Markets continued to drop yesterday as investors continue their sell-off with no end in sight. The S&P 500 index, which fell nearly 12 percent Monday, dropped so low that it erased all gains made since January 2019, as the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped by 13 percent—almost 3,000 points. “It’s not like a regular business cycle; anything to slow the spread of the virus is the greatest economic stimulus you could have, and it’s now clear that U.S. government policy is not doing that,” Austan Goolsbee, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business told Foreign Policy.

Democracy Delayed? France will postpone the second round of its municipal elections, even as the first round took place last Sunday. Fears of spreading the coronavirus have taken hold in France, with near-lockdowns now in place. In the race for Paris mayor, incumbent Anne Hidalgo received 30 percent of the first round vote, 8 percent ahead of her nearest challenger.

A judge has rejected Ohio Governor Mike DeWine’s call to delay his state’s presidential primary. The vote is expected to go ahead today even as poll workers have already begun dropping out, citing health concerns. Long voter lines have characterized the primaries in many states, notably in Texas, where one man waited in line for 7 hours before he could vote. Florida, Illinois, and Arizona all plan to hold their votes today as scheduled.

Meanwhile, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has said there is “no necessity” to change the date of Poland’s May 10 presidential elections, even as the European continent endures some of the worst of the coronavirus pandemic. The incumbent, President Andrzej Duda, enjoyed an approval rating of 60 percent in February.


Keep an Eye On

Pompeo reacts to rocket attack. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has told Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi that U.S. forces will take “additional action as necessary in self-defense” in response to a second rocket attack on a military base in Iraq that wounded several U.S. and Iraqi service members. Iraqi officials say 33 rockets were used in Saturday’s attack.

Putin gets court approval. Russia’s constitutional court has approved the constitutional amendments that would allow Vladimir Putin to remain as president of Russia until 2036. When the amendment was first suggested, Putin replied by saying that he would approve the changes as long as the constitutional court did, too. The final step is now in the hands of Russia’s voters, who will vote to approve or reject the changes in a vote scheduled for April 22.

Coronavirus vaccine trials begin. On Monday, scientists in Seattle gave volunteers the first injections of a potential coronavirus vaccine. The National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc. developed the trial vaccine, code-named mRNA-1273. Although the vaccine is already at this trial stage, experts expect a finished product to take at least another 12-18 months.


Odds and Ends

Just as the bulk retailer Costco is recording a sales bump following a surge in coronavirus-related panic purchasing, online mass-retailer Amazon is also one of the companies that stands to benefit from shifts in consumer behavior. The company announced they would add 100,000 full-time and part-time jobs in their distribution centers to cope with the demand for online purchasing as more and more Americans are forced to shop at home.


That’s it for today. 

For more from FP, visit foreignpolicy.com, subscribe here, or sign up for our other newsletters. Send your tips, comments, questions, or corrections to morningbrief@foreignpolicy.com.  

Colm Quinn is an Irish freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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