Serbia closed its borders on Tuesday for travellers from countries most affected by the coronavirus outbreak, including Switzerland, to prevent spreading of the disease, the government said in a statement.
The temporary ban applies to people arriving “from Italy, certain provinces in China, South Korea, Iran and parts of Switzerland”, it said. The government did not say when the ban would be lifted.
On March 12, the Serbian embassy in Bern issued a statement in which it clarified that for China, South Korea and Switzerland the ban applies "exclusively to the persons coming from the Hubei Province of the People's Republic of China, the city of Daegu and the North Gyeongsang Province of the Republic of Korea and the Canton of Ticino in Switzerland."
The temporary ban on entry into Serbia for foreign nationals coming from Italy and the Islamic Republic of Iran remains in effect, it said.
The embassy said the airlines Air Serbia and Swiss had currently blocked flights from Switzerland to Serbia.
International road traffic is being diverted to major border crossings, whereas 44 smaller and occasional border crossings will be temporarily closed.
So far, 12 people in Serbia have tested positive for the coronavirus. There are over 600 known cases in Switzerland, and four confirmed deaths.
"The government urges Serbian citizens who work abroad and come from the areas with intense coronavirus transmission, and plan to come to Serbia for the upcoming Easter holidays, to delay the trip," the Serbian embassy statement went on.
Officially, some 71,000 people of Serbian origin live in Switzerland (2015 figure) while around 2,300 Swiss live in Serbia – many with dual nationality.
Last week, Israel also ordered travellers arriving from Switzerland, Germany, France, Spain and Austria to go into home quarantine, as it had already done for those returning from Italy, China and Singapore. Swiss International Airlines cancelled flights to Tel Aviv until the end of the month.
In Europe, Austria unilaterally broke with the European Union’s rules on the free movement of people on Tuesday by denying entry to those arriving from Italy. This is the first case of restrictions being placed on the free travel Schengen area of 26 European countries since the outbreak of the virus, an echo of 2015, when a wave of migrants and refugees prompted several to close their borders.
It is also the first time that border controls have been imposed due to health grounds in the EU. Serbia is currently in accession talks with the EU.
The Swiss government has ruled out closing its borders for the time being, including with Italy, where over 12,000 cases have been registered and the entire country is in quarantine conditions. Switzerland this week shuttered nine border crossings with Italy and directing traffic to main routes while still letting workers get to their jobs.
* This article was updated on March 12 following a statement by the Serbian embassy in Bern.
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