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World virus infections hit 200,000; borders jammed in Europe

Desperate travelers choked European border crossings on Wednesday after nations implemented strict controls in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus, creating traffic jams miles long and slowing the passage of trucks carrying critical supplies.

In an attempt to alleviate some of the pressure from Eastern Europeans stuck in Austria trying to return home, Hungary overnight opened its borders in phases. Bulgarian citizens were first allowed to cross in carefully controlled convoys, then Romanians had a turn.

But by early Wednesday on the Austrian side of the border, trucks were backed up for 28 kilometers (17 miles) and cars for 14 kilometers (nearly 9 miles) as rules allowing only Hungarians or transport trucks through the country’s borders kicked back in.

European Union leaders have been working on how to make sure that food, medical supplies and other essential goods keep flowing but so far borders have been clogged. Looking ahead, they’re also trying to figure out ways to allow seasonal agricultural workers, needed to keep the production of food going, to travel back and forth across essentially closed borders.

On Wednesday, thousands of trucks remained backed up in Lithuania on roads into Poland, after Warsaw ordered strict measures that include testing every driver for COVID-19 symptoms. The line of trucks was 60 kilometers (37 miles) long on Tuesday night.

“The Polish and Lithuanian governments have opened a second crossing, but that did not help much,” said border police spokesman Rokas Pukinsas.

In Brussels, Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, said there had been “a unanimous and united approach” to the decision to prohibit most foreigners from entering the EU for 30 days.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said European leaders agreed in a conference call to the commission’s proposal for an entry ban to the bloc — along with Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Britain — with “very, very limited exceptions.” Germany will implement the decision immediately.

But so far, EU efforts to smooth the transition have failed.

Nations around the world were facing the same issues, with the US and Canada working on a mutual ban on nonessential travel between the two countries.

In Southeast Asia, the causeway between Malaysia and the financial hub of Singapore was eerily quiet after Malaysia shut its borders, while the Philippines backed down on an order giving foreigners 72 hours to leave from a large part of its main island.

US President Donald Trump’s administration was considering a plan to immediately return to Mexico all people who cross the country’s southern border illegally, according to two officials who spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because the plan hasn’t been finalized.

The coronavirus is now present in every US state after West Virginia reported an infection. In far-flung Hawaii, the governor encouraged travelers to postpone their island vacations for at least the next 30 days, while the governor of Nevada — home to Las Vegas — ordered a month-long closure of the state’s casinos.

Increasingly worried about the economic fallout of the global shutdown, the US, Britain and the Netherlands announced rescue packages totaling hundreds of billions of dollars, while longtime International Monetary Fund critic Venezuela asked the institution for a $5 billion loan.

Major Asian stock markets fell back Wednesday after early gains after Wall Street jumped on Trump’s promise of aid.