By Edward Thicknesse

BRUSSELS - European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen has proposed a 30-day ban on incoming foreign travel to the European Union as leaders battle to limit the spread of the coronavirous outbreak.

von der Leyen said: “The less travel, the more we can contain the virus. Therefore, I propose to the heads of state and government to introduce temporary restriction on non-essential travel to the EU.

“These travel restrictions should be in place for an initial period of 30 days, but can be prolonged as necessary.”

She added that the ban would not apply to UK citizens, but urged the UK and Ireland to align with the restrictions.

Earlier the Financial Times reported that European countries are preparing to shut the 26-state Schengen free travel zone to all non-essential visitors from third countries in the most radical measure yet announced to deal with the coronavirus outbreak.

The dramatic response would see exemptions for citizens from Schengen countries, as well as diplomats, doctors and researchers working to contain the crisis.

National leaders are still required to sign off the plan, the specifics of which could change before the announcement is made, officials stressed.

Diplomats told the Financial Times that the measure was discussed in a call earlier today between German chancellor Angela Merkel, French president Emmanuel Macron and the leaders of the European Commission and Council.

The decision comes as the number of cases of the virus in European states surged, prompting states to begin shutting borders.

Earlier today the European Commission warned states to take care not to damage food and medical supply chains as they rush to restrict movement.

In a note seen by Reuters, the European Commission said: “The coronavirus crisis has highlighted the challenge of protecting the health of the population whilst avoiding disruptions to the free movement of persons, and the delivery of goods and essential services across Europe.

“The implementation of checks of persons and goods should be governed by the principle of solidarity between member states”.

Ambassadors from member states will meet to discuss the issue this evening.