‘Evolving virus situation’ forces EU chief to scrap Greece visit

Von der Leyen was due to travel to Greece to discuss the migrant issue. (AFP pic)

BRUSSELS: EU president Ursula von der Leyen announced Wednesday that the urgency of the new coronavirus pandemic has forced her to postpone her visit to Greece to tackle migration.

“I have decided to postpone my trip to Athens tomorrow,” von der Leyen tweeted citing the “evolving situation in Europe related to #COVID19,” the new coronavirus.

She said she agreed on the postponement with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

“I will be focusing on launching the EU coordination efforts announced yesterday,” said the president of the European Commission, the EU executive.

Following a videoconference late Tuesday among EU leaders, von der Leyen announced steps to coordinate the response to the spread of the coronavirus.

The surge in coronavirus cases brought Europe’s total number to more than 22,000 on Wednesday, with 930 deaths, and the US said it was considering issuing a ban on travellers from the continent.

Von der Leyen had been due to meet in Athens with Mitsotakis to discuss the growing problem of migrants and refugees heading from Turkey to the border with Greece.

Europe fears Turkish President Recept Tayyip Erdogan’s decision to allow migrants to head to the Greek border will trigger a repeat of the 2015 refugee crisis.

In addition to talks with Mitsotakis, she was to have visited the Eleonas refugee camp in Athens and see unaccompanied children fleeing Syria’s civil war.

With Turkey hosting around four million refugees and migrants, and the Syrian city of Idlib facing a Russian-backed government assault, the stakes are high.

Brussels has given its full backing – and a €700 million aid package – to Athens’ efforts to hold off a wave of new arrivals and refugees from Turkey.