Italy Refuses to Suspend Schengen Agreement Despite Coronavirus Outbreak

Long immigration queue at Malpensa Airport in Milan non-Schengen Travellers

Italy is declining the Schengen Zone and EU’s proposal to suspend the Schengen Agreement in order to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Italy alone now has total number of nearly 1,700 confirmed cases and 34 total deaths so far, as of 01 March 2020. 16 regions of the country are affected by the virus so far, but it is expected to spread due to its contagiousness and health officials’ lack of knowledge of how to stop the new virus. The main reason for a lack of knowledge is that it is a new virus that we haven’t seen before.

In an interview, the Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said, “This is a draconian measure that does not meet the needs of Italian citizens in the field of containment of infection.”

He went on to joke sarcastically of what Italy would become by saying, “Suspend Schengen? But what do we want to make of Italy, a lazaretto?!” A lazaretto is defined as an isolation hospital for people with infectious diseases, especially leprosy or plague.

So far, about a dozen towns in the northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto are on lockdown, with about 50,000 residents unable to leave. Italian authorities have stated that they will impose fines on anyone caught trying to leave locked-down and restricted areas.

Public places like bars, restaurants, and nightclubs have also been ordered to close to try and limit peoples’ exposure to possibly infected others. The Venice Carnival was shut down two days early as well.

France, so far, has taken the same approach to the proposal of suspending the Schengen Agreement.

“Closing down the borders would make no sense, as the circulation of the virus is not just limited to administrative borders,” French Junior Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari told French media.

While the Junior Transport Minister doesn’t seem to be very concerned, French Health Minister Oliver Veran appears to have a different view of the coronavirus in Italy and France.

“Tonight, there is no epidemic in France, but there is a problematic situation at the door, in Italy, that we are watching with great attention,” said Veran.

Austria is beginning to explore measure to contain the possible spread of the disease, but has not implemented complete border checks.

The Austrian government has placed a travel warning on affected place in Lombardy and Veneto. The travel warnings preceded a meeting with the government’s Coronavirus Task Force, which includes the Chancellor, Sebastian Kurz.

“As far as the borders and cross-border traffic are concerned, we will proceed as follows: we will further tighten warning systems with our neighbors; [and] we will immediately order a stop in the event of suspected cases, as happened last night,” Kurz said in an interview. Schengen countries seem to be taking every measure to keep the Schengen Agreement intact while simultaneously controlling the spread of the coronavirus.

Related information

Frontex the European Border and Coast Guard Agency website

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