By Francesco Guarascio and Jakub Riha
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – EU institutions have ordered staff who travelled to areas of northern Italy hit by an outbreak of coronavirus to stay at home for two weeks, a measure that may be repeated by member states as concerns mount over the epidemic in Europe.
The number of cases in Italy, the country in Europe worst affected by the outbreak that first emerged in China, rose to more than 260 overnight from 229 on Monday, with the northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto being the most affected. The number of deaths was unchanged at seven.
Under European Union rules, travel restrictions are decided by each of the 27 member states, but the bloc’s institutions can issue warnings to their staff.
The European Parliament ordered a 14-day quarantine for all its staff who travelled to Lombardy, Piedmont, Emilia-Romagna and Veneto, the industrial and financial heartland of Italy, according to an email sent on Monday evening.
Separately, the European Commission told its staff to stay at home for two weeks only if they had visited over the past 14 days any of 11 designated towns in northern Italy that are considered the epicentre of the outbreak there.
The EU executive arm also recommended that its staff avoid travel to Lombardy, a spokesman said on Tuesday.
Among member states, only France has so far imposed quarantine measures on people returning from affected areas in northern Italy, according to an EU document.
The document, adopted after a meeting of EU health experts on Monday, said several member states were revising their travel advice to Italy.
At that meeting, Italian representatives said they would inform their counterparts on the spread of the epidemic and other developments, “in particular regarding the situation in ski resorts in the Alps”.
EU countries can suspend a border-free pact, known as the Schengen agreement, in the event of emergencies. But so far, none have notified the Commission of any such move, a spokeswoman for the EU executive said on Tuesday.
The EU Parliament advised its staff returning from northern Italy to “stay home in self-isolation” and take their temperature twice daily for 14 days. Only after that period, if healthy, they could return to work.
The parliament’s advisory also concerned staff who travelled to China, Singapore and South Korea.
So far, the only travel advisory adopted by EU institutions had been a notice from the Commission to its staff at the end of January to suspend “non-essential” travel to China.
(Reporting by Marine Strauss, Francesco Guarascio and Jakub Riha; Editing by Gareth Jones)