BUDAPEST: Hungary will not comply with an EU recommendation to lift coronavirus travel restrictions for more countries outside the bloc, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said Thursday, citing a risk to health.
The 27-member EU finalised Tuesday the list of countries where coronavirus infections were seen to be low enough to allow their citizens to enter the bloc starting on Wednesday.
"We cannot currently implement the EU's request to allow in citizens from non-EU countries, with the exception of Serbia," Orban said in a Facebook video message.
Hungary reopened the border with neighbouring Serbia, which has a large ethnic-Hungarian population, in May. But lifting travel restrictions to more nations outside the EU "would go against the healthcare interests of the Hungarian people," Orban said.
The countries that made it onto the EU list are Algeria, Australia, Canada, Japan, Georgia, Montenegro, Morocco, New Zealand, Rwanda, Serbia, South Korea, Thailand, Tunisia and Uruguay, as well as China if it reciprocates.
Other EU members have also expressed reservations about lifting travel restrictions for countries that they deem still have too many coronavirus cases to consider them to be safe. Austria on Wednesday announced it would follow the EU recommendation -- but not for Serbia and Montenegro.
Bulgaria, Romania and Slovenia have not announced fresh decisions on lifting travel restrictions since the EU's recommendation.
But Slovenia said on Thursday it would reinstate travel restrictions for residents from fellow EU members Croatia, France and the Czech Republic from the weekend, citing the virus situations in those countries.
Orban said Budapest would set up a "humanitarian corridor" to enable people travelling to other countries to cross Hungary.
Such a corridor was put in place in March when EU countries started closing their borders, leaving many people stranded.
"Everyone travelling through Hungary will have to use it... They will not be allowed to leave this path, while we will also continue to keep strict border controls in place," Orban said.
Hungary's population of almost 10 million has been lightly affected by the pandemic in comparison with other parts of Europe, reporting just over 4,100 coronavirus infections and around 590 deaths so far.
The EU's border relaxation, to be reviewed in two weeks and left to member states to implement, is a bid to help rescue the continent's battered tourism sector, which has been choked by a ban on non-essential travel in place since mid-March.