VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria is introducing border checks and will deny entry to people arriving from Italy, drastically stepping up measures aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said on Tuesday.
The announcement comes a day after Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said the whole of his country was being placed under lockdown until next month, an unprecedented and unexpected new attempt to beat coronavirus in Europe’s worst-affected country.
While there will be exceptions, such as for people passing through Austria without stopping and for goods transport, the border measures are exceptional for the Alpine country wedged between Italy and Germany and part of the Schengen open-border area.
“The utmost priority is to prevent the spread and thus the importing of the illness into our society. There is therefore a ban on entry for people from Italy into Austria, with the exception of people who have a doctor’s note (certifying they are healthy),” Kurz told a news conference.
Kurz and Interior Minister Karl Nehammer announced other measures, including a ban on indoor events of more than 100 people and outdoor events of more than 500 people, from Wednesday until early April.
University lectures will stop on Monday at the latest and companies are being asked to let their staff work from home.
Austria had only just introduced spot health checks at its border with Italy on Tuesday, targeting vehicles with Italian license plates in particular. It also said last week it was banning direct flights to the Italian cities of Milan and Bologna, as well as to Iran and South Korea.
Austria has had 182 confirmed cases so far and no deaths, compared with more than 9,000 cases in Italy and 463 deaths.
“We are carrying out border checks at the border crossings. Entry is only possible with a valid health certificate from Italy or alternatively if there is the possibility of 14 days’ accommodation in isolation,” Nehammer said. “A journey through Austria is allowed as long as no stops must be made in Austria.”
It was not clear how those measures, particularly on through travel, would be enforced.
Nehammer added that there would soon be no more train journeys or flights from Italy to Austria. The western province of Tyrol’s transport minister, Ingrid Felipe, said passenger train connections to Italy would stop on Wednesday.
From the main border crossing with Italy in Tyrol it is roughly an hour’s drive to Germany. That route is also a vital transport link between the two countries.
Austria has urged its citizens visiting Italy to come home urgently. It will arrange repatriations, Kurz and Nehammer said.
Additional reporting by Alexandra Schwarz-Goerlich; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Alex Richardson