Coronavirus panic: EU staff ordered to avoid public transport as virus sweeps Brussels

In an internal email, bureaucrats said the institution’s employees should walk, cycle or even drive to work as cases of the deadly virus grow. Human resources chief Kristian Knudsen wrote: “In the current situation, we strongly encourage staff not to use public transport, but to walk or bike or, as a last resort, use your private car. “The risk of transmission of covid 19 in public transport is much too high.”

Staff at the EU Parliament’s offices in Strasbourg and Luxembourg were also told they “must stay at home” until further notice.

Officials already cancelled this week’s plenary session in the French city amid fears that the mass move would increase the risk of transmission of the virus.

President David Sassoli appeared in the Hemicycle chamber via video link after putting himself in self-isolation because he had recently travelled home to Italy.

“I have decided after having been in Italy over the last weekend, as a precaution, to follow the indicated measures and to exercise my function as president from my home in Brussels in compliance with the 14 days indicated by the health protocol,” he told colleagues.

The Parliament’s decision to keep its doors open sparked fury from MEPs, who accused bosses of risking an institutional health crisis.

Roman Haider, an Austrian MEP, said: “We MEPs have been told to keep our distance from each other at the moment but nonetheless we are still packed onto buses to get to this Parliament.

“Sassoli has failed on this and I hope now that national parliaments will deal better with this.”

Slovakian MEP Lucia Duris Nicholsonova said: “What has happened here this week is irresponsible. Today, we have been forced to sit in one room, this chamber, and discuss the corona virus. This is irresponsible.”

“By being asked to come to Parliament we MEPs have also exposed everyone who works here, from assistants to cleaning and security staff, to a big risk – and all just because MEPs have to be here,” she added.

Cases of coronavirus inside the EU institutions are on the rise.

The European Central Bank confirmed one of its staff members tested positive and the Parliament said an external trainer had been diagnosed.

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A European Council official, who has attended meetings with diplomats from the across the bloc, was also diagnosed with the virus.

A meeting of EU trade ministers was this week cancelled as part of a crackdown on public gatherings.

The World Health Organisation last night confirmed coronavirus as a pandemic.

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A pandemic is a disease that is spreading in multiple countries around the world at the same time.

WHO boss Dr Tedros Adhanom said: “Several countries have demonstrated that this virus can be suppressed and controlled.

“The challenge for many countries who are now dealing with large clusters or community transmission is not whether they can do the same – it’s whether they will.”

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