By Neil Clark
Dealing with Covid-19, Emmanuel Macron seems to be singing from the same hymn sheet as Angela Merkel, who is also against closing borders, but is this not a case of Western liberal ideology overriding necessity and common sense?
Compare and contrast. In his speech to the nation last night, Macron declared: “This virus has no passport.” He added: “We will undoubtedly take measures to close borders, but only when it is relevant… It is at the European level that we have built our freedoms.”
Macron is closing all schools, nurseries, universities and day care centres from next week and has called on the vulnerable to isolate themselves. But if anyone can still come into France unchecked from countries where coronavirus is even more of a problem, won’t those measures be undermined?
Ditto Germany. Angela Merkel said this week that “we in Germany, in any case, are of the opinion that border closures are not an appropriate response to the challenge.”
Contrast this ‘open borders,’ ‘we must protect Schengen’ approach with that of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria and Hungary who are all EU member states. Declaring a 30-day ‘state of emergency,’ the Czech government has closed its borders to people from 15 countries hit by coronavirus and banned its citizens from visiting these countries too. From Monday next week, all international travel to and from Czechia will be essentially prohibited.
Slovakia is closing its borders today to all foreigners except those who have a residency permit, while announcing that all Slovaks who have been abroad will have to face two weeks of quarantine. Austria has barred all people entering the country from Italy, unless they have a medical certificate. Hungary has banned arrivals from Italy, China and Iran.
But in Western Europe, it seems a commitment to maintaining ‘open borders,’ even at a time of a potentially very extreme health crisis, trumps other concerns.
An example of this fundamentalist and very dogmatic approach can be seen in the tweet from Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt who declared: “Nationalism isn’t the answer to COV19, because viruses don’t care about borders or nationalities.”
International travel may broaden the mind, but unfortunately, it also helps Covid-19 to spread.
You really don’t have to be Albert Einstein to understand that the more open the borders, the greater chance of a country seeing its coronavirus cases rise. Yet the most powerful countries in the EU – unlike the more pragmatic ones in central and eastern Europe – seem to be putting virtue signaling and liberal ideology first. Of course, there’s a moral case that can be made for ‘free movement,’ but in a time of crisis, governments have to forget all that and put protecting their own citizens first. Nationalism? No, it’s just doing what governments are elected to do.
If we can criticize Macron and Merkel on these grounds, we can criticize Boris Johnson too. Plane loads of people arriving from the worst affected areas of Italy have been arriving in Britain without any proper checks. On last night’s BBC Question Time, Professor John Ashton, a former director of public health, noted how around 3,000 supporters of the Spanish football team Atletico Madrid were in Liverpool this week for a Champions League tie. Spain’s Corona cases, as of Wednesday, had surpassed 1,600 with about half of them in the Madrid region.
Two-thirds of Spain’s deaths from the virus have occurred in the Madrid region. Yet, as Professor Ashton pointed out, the Madrilenos would have been out and about in Liverpool on Tuesday and Wednesday, drinking in bars, staying in hotels, traveling on public transport. How can governments say they are doing everything they can to stop the spread of coronavirus when unrestricted travel from Covid-19 ‘hotspots’ is still taking place?
It may be true, as Macron says, that “It is at the European level that we have built our freedoms,” but what price ‘freedom’ if it means the ‘freedom’ to die from coronavirus because the most logical, common sense step of all is not taken?