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Serbia halts all commercial flights from Belgrade's airport

BELGRADE (Reuters) - Serbia barred all commercial flights to and from its main airport in the capital Belgrade on Thursday, for the first time since 1999, after the authorities imposed a state of emergency to curb the spread of coronavirus.

The Nikola Tesla airport, operated by France’s Vinci, remains open only for humanitarian flights and planes with special permits. Serbia has already barred flights to and from the airport in the southern city of Nis.

“As of March 19, all commercial passenger ... flights to and from the Nikola Tesla Airport will be temporarily barred ... the border crossing at the airport will be temporarily closed,” the statement said.

Inbound planes that had already taken off when the ban was announced would be allowed to land, but passengers must undergo mandatory self-isolation, the government said.

Serbia currently has 97 confirmed cases of coronavirus infection, an increase of eight on the previous day, out of 486 people tested. There have been no fatalities so far.

The last time flights to and from the airport in Belgrade were barred was in 1999, during the NATO bombing campaign aimed at ending a crackdown of Serbia’s security forces against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

On Wednesday, Serbia’s military deployed at borders in line with the state of emergency declared on Sunday.

Serbia, a European Union membership candidate, has already ordered the elderly to stay indoors and imposed a night curfew on almost everyone else. It barred foreigners from entering, postponed April elections, and closed schools and universities.

Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Alex Richardson