Austria stops passenger train traffic from and to Italy amid coronavirus panic

Authorities in Austria have stopped an incoming train at the Italian border, after it emerged that two passengers may be infected with the Covid-19 coronavirus. Later, all train traffic to and from Italy was halted.

The Eurocity 86 train was stopped at the Brenner Pass border crossing on Sunday, after officials at Italian State Railways told their Austrian counterparts that two passengers on board had fever symptoms consistent with the Covid-19 coronavirus.

The train, bound for Munich in Germany, was halted and returned to the Italian side of the alpine crossing, Interior Minister Karl Nehammer confirmed.

Austrian authorities later stopped all train traffic to and from Italy, tabloid newspaper OE24 said on its website.

The stoppage marks the first time European borders have been shut following the outbreak of the deadly disease, which surfaced in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019 and has to date spread to more than 30 countries worldwide, killing nearly 2,500 people.

At least 100 cases and three deaths have been recorded in Italy, making the Mediterranean country Europe’s coronavirus hotspot, and the only European country to see fatalities. Cities and towns in the northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto have been placed on lockdown, and Venice’s world-famous carnival has ended two days early, as authorities grapple to stop the spread of the illness. In Milan, grocery stores were emptied by panic-stricken shoppers, and shortages of disinfectant and respirators have been reported.

Europe’s largely porous borders could pose a serious risk for further transmission across the continent. However, EU officials have told the public that “there is no need to panic.” 

“The EU has full confidence in the Italian authorities and the decisions they are taking,” the bloc’s economic affairs commissioner, Paolo Gentiloni, said on Sunday.

Austria has not yet implemented full border controls. Though systematic checks are only permitted along the Italian/Austrian border in exceptional cases, the Austrian government has tightened security at this frontier before – during a meeting of EU interior ministers in 2018, and several times since the European migrant crisis began in 2015.

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