Thousands of Romanians trying to get home as Europe enters a coronavirus lockdown were on Tuesday stranded on the border between Austria and Hungary – after Hungarian authorities announced they would end transit through their territory.
Freight trucks have been allowed to cross the border, but as many as 3,500 Romanians were stuck in tailbacks stretching for miles from the border crossing.
A corridor would be opened for passenger vehicles to cross Hungary later tonight, said Romanian Foreign Minister Bogdan Aurescu, with transit to be strictly supervised by Romanian police.
“Hungary will support, as an exceptional measure to be applied only once, the repatriation of these Romanian citizens” as long as they do not stop in Hungary before reaching their home country, the foreign minister told the Digi24 news website.
Aurescu also advised other Romanians attempting to return home to avoid Hungary, as transit would “no longer be allowed”.
Hungary shut its borders to foreign travellers from Tuesday and is allowing only Hungarian citizens to enter the country. There was a 20km (12-mile) queue at the Hegyeshalom border crossing on the Austrian border on Tuesday, with cars and trucks waiting to enter Hungary.
“We expect Austrian authorities to maintain order on the Austrian side of the border and allow Hungarian citizens and freight traffic to use the border crossing,” said Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto.
The government said Bulgarian nationals who travel home through Romania can transit Hungary between 20:00 GMT and 23:00 GMT via the corridor kept open for freight traffic, while Romanian nationals can use the route between 20:00 GMT and 04:00 GMT on Wednesday morning.
There are thousands of workers returning from Western Europe to Romania and Bulgaria.
Hungary has registered 50 coronavirus infections, one of whom has died. The government has said in coming days there would be cluster infections, not just individual cases as the virus spreads.