Austria lifting coronavirus border checks with all neighbours bar Italy

File photo. Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg attends a video conference of a four country Foreign Ministers meeting between Austria, Germany, Liechtenstein, Switzerland in Vienna, Austria, 21 April 2020. [Poll/EPA/EFE]

Austria is lifting coronavirus-related border restrictions including quarantines for all neighbouring countries except Italy as of Thursday (4 June), the foreign minister said on Wednesday.

Austria borders eight countries and had agreed with Switzerland, Germany and Liechtenstein that they would reopen their shared borders from 15 June. It is now accelerating that move on its side and lifting checks for Slovakia, Slovenia, the Czech Republic and Hungary.

“We are thereby returning to the pre-corona situation regarding these countries,” Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg told a news conference.

His announcement came shortly after Germany said it would lift a travel ban for European Union member states from 15 June as long as there are no entry bans or large-scale lockdowns in those countries, suggesting a move towards greater freedom of movement in time for the summer holidays.

“For Italy, unfortunately the pandemic figures do not yet allow such a step. I emphasize, not yet,” Schallenberg said, adding the aim was to lift checks at the Italian border as soon as possible.

In Rome, Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said Italy, which opened its own borders on Wednesday, expected reciprocity from its partners and said that “individualist” solutions by different countries risked damaging the image of the EU.

“We were the first to be hit by the pandemic and today our data are more reassuring than those of many other countries,” he told a news conference with his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian.

He said he had spoken with Schallenberg and the two had agreed that the health ministries of the two countries would look at epidemiological data from Italy.

“We will work to ensure that between today and 15 June, all these things which may be in contradiction to the spirit of Europe can be resolved.”

EPP Group Vice-Chairman MEP Paulo Rangel, negotiator on a resolution concerning the situation of the Schengen area following the COVID-19 outbreak, reacted to the piecemeal opening of borders.

“Member states must work together for a gradual, coordinated and responsible reopening of the internal Schengen borders in a unified way. Cohesion in this matter would provide much needed certainty at this time,” he stated.

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