Slovakia closes schools, stops international travel to battle coronavirus

BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - Slovakia will introduce border checks, stop international travel to and from the country and close schools as it steps up measures to battle the spreading coronavirus, Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini said on Thursday.

The central European country, which has so far reported 16 cases of the new virus, also plans to close sport, leisure and entertainment centers such as ski areas, pools and clubs, and will shut all shopping centers this coming weekend.

Pellegrini said Slovakia’s international airports would close and international bus and train travel would also be halted, though international freight transport would continue.

The school closures will last for 14 days from Monday, Pellegrini said.

“Our goal is to delay the increase of this illness in Slovakia,” he said. “We have to buy time. The later the contagion comes, the more information from scientists we will have and we can take more new measures.”

Slovakia had already banned flights to and from Italy - the country worst hit by the outbreak in Europe - and banned cultural, sport and other public events.

A 14-day quarantine period imposed on Slovak citizens returning from Italy will now be extended to all those returning from abroad, Pellegrini said on Thursday.

Reporting by Tomas Mrva, writing by Jason Hovet; Editing by Gareth Jones