As Europe’s COVID-19 numbers rise, Hungary becomes first EU country to reimpose blanket border restrictions

September 1, 2020, 12:23 PM UTC

Hungary has closed its borders to most foreigners—the first country in Europe’s free-travel Schengen Area to do so since COVID-19 border restrictions were lifted across the region in June.

The move, intended to protect Hungary as coronavirus cases continue to rise across Europe, was announced Friday and went into effect midnight Tuesday.

Hungarian citizens and residents are able to enter the country but will need to be quarantined for two weeks after they do so, unless they have two very recent negative COVID-19 test results—and tests performed outside Hungary are not accepted.

Non-Hungarian citizens or residents living within 30 kilometers (18.5 miles) of the Hungarian border will be able to cross into the country, as long as they leave within 24 hours, and don’t go further than 30 kilometers into Hungary. Non-Hungarians will also be able to transit through the country via specified routes.

Following pleas from their governments, tourists from the Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovakia will also be able to enter Hungary if they had already booked a holiday there.

“Rising in Europe”

According to data from the World Health Organization, Europe’s coronavirus case-count now tops 4 million after a 5.6% increase in the week ending Aug. 23. Spain, Russia, France, and Ukraine were responsible for over half of those new cases.

“We have often heard in recent weeks that Europe is O.K.—not only until the end of the summer, but beyond,” read a Monday BofA Securities investor note. “The lower virus count leading into the summer, especially compared with the U.S., seemed to feed into that. But recent developments no longer quite match that assumption. Daily cases are falling in the U.S. and rising in Europe.”

Hungary is not the first country in the Schengen Area to reintroduce entry restrictions of some kind in recent months, in the hopes of stopping the spread of the virus from hotspots elsewhere in Europe. For example, Belgium won’t let Parisians in; Denmark is keeping most Belgian and French people out; and most European countries are urging their citizens to stay out of Spain.

But Hungary, which on Sunday recorded a record 292 COVID-19 diagnoses, is the first country to once again implement blanket restrictions at its border. And the European Commission, which struggled to get such restrictions lifted in a coordinated fashion a few months ago, is not amused.

“There is the need to replace blanket restrictions to free movement by more targeted measures which are limited in time or in geographical scope, meaning, for example, that you apply restrictions to visitors from specific areas only,” EC spokeswoman Vivian Loonela told Euronews.

Germany, which currently holds the European Union’s rotating presidency, is reportedly trying to introduce a more coordinated cross-border response to the outbreak. According to AFP, Berlin has several proposals for avoiding a “fragmented approach” to travel restrictions.

A key proposal is the creation of a commonly agreed list of which areas in the EU present a risk. Hungary’s decision to close its borders is based on its own “traffic light system” for contagion risk, which currently shows Hungary as green and everyone else as red.