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Last-minute gridlock at Europe’s borders as deaths in Italy surge

Going nowhere: Lorries in Germany in a 45-mile jam to cross the Polish border PICTURE: GETTY

EUROPEAN borders were clogged with traffic yesterday as desperate travellers tried to beat travel bans.

Long lines formed at checkpoints hours after EU leaders approved plans to prevent non-essential movement across borders in the Schengen zone.

It came as Italy saw a world record surge in deaths — an increase of 475 in 24 hours, taking the country’s total to 2,978. It is the worst-hit nation outside China.

Reports suggested Lombardy — the country’s most-affected region — saw an extra 319 deaths, taking the toll to 1,959, a 19.45 per cent rise.

In Brussels, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen insisted there had been ‘a unanimous and united approach’ following the decision to bar most foreigners from entering the EU for at least 30 days.

Safeguards were in place to allow medical equipment, food and goods to continue flowing, she said.

British citizens are exempt from the travel ban, as are long-term EU residents, diplomats and some healthcare and transport workers.

Alongside the new ban on visitors from outside the EU, individual member states have been enforcing their own border closures — but yesterday saw turmoil as brief openings were made to allow people to return to their home countries.

Thousands of trucks were backed up for 37 miles in Lithuania on routes into Poland, where the government has ordered Covid-19 tests on all drivers.

Meanwhile, the French army started evacuating critically-ill patients from overstretched hospitals in the east to the south.

In Hungary, traffic was gridlocked for nine miles on the border with Austria. And there were queues more than 30 miles long at the border between the Czech Republic and Poland.

Turkey announced it would seal its land and rail borders and suspend ferry crossings from Greece. Germany closed its borders on Monday, and Denmark has now done the same.