VIENNA (Reuters) – Austria is introducing “spot” health checks at its border with Italy for two weeks as of next week in response to the coronavirus outbreak, in which Italy is the hardest-hit country in Europe, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said on Friday.
Austria, the western segment of which is wedged between Italy and Germany, is a vital transport corridor between those two countries. More than half the freight crossing the Alps passes through the small Alpine republic.
It has so far avoided introducing checks at its border but on Friday it said it would now act to try and slow the spread of the virus from northern Italy, the worst-affected part of Europe. Austria has 63 confirmed cases so far, Kurz said, compared to 4,636 in Italy, where 197 people have died.
“On the issue of checks, health checks at the border, you can picture it this way – of course the police is in charge of deciding which cars it makes sense for and for which it does not, particularly on the basis of license plates,” Kurz told a news conference with his interior and health ministers.
He added that an indirect effect would be that “of course it leads to greater awareness, to a certain reduction in border crossings and perhaps to a greater reluctance to undertake unnecessary journeys to at-risk areas”.
Kurz also announced that because of the spread of the virus his country was banning direct flights to Iran, South Korea and the Italian cities of Milan and Bologna. There are already no direct connections to China.
Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Sandra Maler and Chris Reese