Germany Tightens Border Checks in Bid to Curb Coronavirus Spread
(Bloomberg) -- Germany tightened border checks and urged the cancellation of major events as authorities across Europe took action to contain the coronavirus.
A German government task force said late Friday that travelers from Italy, South Korea, Japan and Iran will need to disclose their health status upon arrival. Checks on railways will also intensify and federal police will boost border patrols.
Germany moved to tighten controls as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the country neared 90 individuals, with the total in Europe almost topping 1,000. Infections in Italy, the regional epicenter of the outbreak, soared to 821 late on Friday, from 650 a day earlier. Italy’s government also held a crisis meeting late into the evening.
The new German rules already forced the cancellation of the ITB tourism trade fair, set to bring 160,000 visitors to Berlin next week. Earlier in the day, a Swiss ban on public and private gatherings with more than 1,000 people resulted in the axing of the Geneva Motor Show, also set for next week. The wireless industry already scrapped the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
ITB organizers “have never before experienced a comparable situation,” said Wolf-Dieter Wolf, chairman of Berlin’s convention center. The government asked everyone attending the tourism fair to prove that they hadn’t had contact with a person from a coronavirus risk area, an impossible hurdle to clear, organizers said.
The number of confirmed cases in the German municipality of Heinsberg, near the Dutch border, rose to 35. Authorities there asked people who came into contact with a married couple with the disease to stay at home. The pair had attended a Carnival event in mid-February with about 400 people, and the isolation affects them and their family and friends, some 1,000 people in all. Heinsberg authorities rejected the idea of a blanket quarantine, however.
“We will need to find a pragmatic way not to cripple our health system,” district administrator Stefan Pusch told reporters in a press conference. “I would have to send half of my crisis team home.”
UniCredit SpA said one of its Milan-based employees tested positive for the virus after being in self-quarantine since Feb. 21. The bank decided to close the floor where the employee was working. Some soccer games in the country will be played in front of empty stadiums, including the face-off on Sunday between title contenders Juventus and Inter Milan.
Italy on Friday approved measures to help areas most affected by the virus. The government plans to suspend utility bills and some mortgages to assist companies and families in the areas most affected by the outbreak. Small- and medium-sized businesses in affected areas will also have preferential access to a state relief fund.
In Spain, the number of people with the disease rose to 34. The Netherlands confirmed its first cases, after two contracted the virus on a recent visit to Italy’s Lombardy region. Globally, there are over 83,000 cases.
The fallout from the spread risks compounding a broader industrial slump. Deutsche Lufthansa AG announced it will ax as many as 25% of its short-haul flights in the coming weeks, while BASF SE warned of a possible second annual profit drop. Germany’s benchmark DAX Index lost 3.9% on Friday.
Growth in Europe’s largest economy will almost certainly be weighed down by the disease, even though the effects of the epidemic don’t yet warrant a monetary-policy response, Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann said, adding that growth could be “somewhat lower” than the 0.6% growth rate predicted in December.
Germany is looking into a range of measures to protect its key export sector. The government’s plans would seek to improve conditions for doing business, including reducing the tax burden on companies and boosting tax relief for digital investment. German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz will discuss possible measures with leaders of the coalition parties next week.
In France, which has 38 cases, the disease’s arrival in Europe is forcing the government to reevaluate the impact. The country estimated the outbreak in China would shave 0.1 percentage points off economic growth in 2020, but that figure could now be higher, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said in Paris.
He plans to speak with European peers and officials at international organizations early next week to update forecasts. Despite the uncertainty, he urged investors to be wary of some “fantastical” figures circulating in financial markets.
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