EU leaders began a video conference summit Tuesday as governments scrambled to come up with a unified response to the coronavirus outbreak that is sweeping the continent.

The 27 leaders will consider a proposed ban on non-essential travel to the bloc -- an idea backed by France and some allies to forestall member states closing their doors to each other.

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen will propose that the bloc's Schengen passport-free zone impose the measure, a drastic and unprecedented move, and that fellow EU states follow suit.

The ban would be in effect for an initial period of 30 days and would not affect Europeans returning home, social workers, cross-border professionals or citizens of former EU member Britain.

Speaking in a national address Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron said the ban would be imposed Tuesday - but he made the announcement before member states signed off on the order. 

EU countries have unilaterally adopted various policies to slow the rapid surge of coronavirus on the continent.

Italy, Spain and France have opted for widespread lockdowns, ordering citizens to stay at home for all but essential trips, while the Netherlands has taken a looser stance, hoping to build collective immunity.

The leaders will also discuss the devastating economic fallout from the crisis, but are not expected to decide any pan-European response.

The EU answer for now has been limited to spending by national governments as well as the European Central Bank, which announced a series of "surgical" measures, but no rate cut, last week.

The leaders will most likely welcome moves by the European Commission to ease budget rules for crisis-hit countries, most notably financially-pressed Italy which is the worst hit by the virus.

But powerful member Germany does not want to activate the eurozone's 410-billion-euro bailout fund, partly out of worry of causing more market panic.

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