Europe News

Germany seals off borders as European countries report record jump in coronavirus deaths

Key Points
  • Though Berlin is not the first European capital to impose border restrictions, the move marked a U-turn in Chancellor Angela Merkel's policy.
  • Seven other European countries have imposed border controls: Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland and Switzerland.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel walks to a press statement prior to meeting with economic and labor unions leaders at the Chancellery on March 13, 2020 in Berlin, Germany.
Pool

Germany is the latest European country to seal off its borders in an effort to contain the coronavirus outbreak, as the number of deaths in Europe jumped overnight.

As of Monday morning, Germany had shut its borders with Austria, Switzerland, France, Luxembourg and Denmark. Only German citizens, those who reside in the country and work in a neighbouring nation and vice-versa, and physical goods, can cross the German border. Though Berlin is not the first European capital to impose border restrictions, the move marked a U-turn in Chancellor Angela Merkel's policy.

"It's a crisis situation," Friedrich Heinemann, head of public finance at the German-based think tank ZEW, told CNBC about the German decision.

He said there's a "competition" between politicians "to show leadership." "Nobody wants to risk showing that it is less cautious (about the outbreak)," he said.

At the height of Europe's migration crisis in 2015, Merkel defended an open border policy. Speaking Wednesday, the German chancellor called on all European countries to coordinate their approaches rather than take unilateral actions.

Germany has a total of 5,813 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 13 deaths, data from Johns Hopkins University showed Monday morning. Italy, Spain and France experienced the highest daily jump in the number of coronavirus-related deaths Sunday. The latest deaths brought their respective totals to 1,809; 292 and 127, according to Hopkins. 

Border closures

A German police officer controls drivers at the border between Austria and Germany near the Bavarian village of Freilassing, southern Germany, on March 16, 2020.
BARBARA GINDL

In addition to Germany, seven other European countries have imposed border controls: Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland and Switzerland.

Italy and Spain are in lockdown and Portugal is looking at limiting the flow of tourists from its land border with Spain. 

The draconian measures come after the World Health Organization said Friday that Europe had become the epicentre of virus that emerged in China in late 2019.  

However, the decision to impose restrictions at the borders is raising eyebrows at the heart of the European Union. 

"We need to keep goods flowing across Europe without obstacles," Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, the EU's executive body, said Sunday. 

 

"In this moment of crisis, it is of utmost importance to keep our internal market going," she said in a video message. 

The European Commission wants member states to do health checks at their borders rather than prohibit tourists and other individuals from entering. 

Merkel is due to speak Monday with French President Emmanuel Macron about border closures.

Speaking to CNBC, Heinemann warned that tourism will be "severely hit" in Europe, but the movement of workers is the most "essential question" for the economy.

He added that the coronavirus is likely to push the European Union into a recession in 2019 and 2020.