Austria lifting coronavirus border checks with all neighbours bar Italy

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VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria is lifting coronavirus-related border restrictions including quarantines for all neighbouring countries except Italy as of Thursday, 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 June 15. 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 June 15 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 June 15, all these things which may be in contradiction to the spirit of Europe can be resolved.”

Reporting by Francois Murphy; additional reporting by James Mackenzie; Editing by Janet Lawrence