By Stefan J. Bos
Her comments further overshadowed Easter and Passover celebrations in Europe. Von der Leyen told Germany's daily Bild that older people might have to be kept isolated until the end of the year.
She stressed that the measures are necessary to protect them and other vulnerable people against the new coronavirus, COVID-19. "I know it's difficult and that isolation is a burden," Von der Leyen was quoted as saying. But, in her words, "it is a question of life or death."
She added: "We have to remain disciplined and patient."
European Commission President Von der Leyen explained that under her plan, children and young people would enjoy more freedom of movement earlier than the elderly. Others with pre-existing medical conditions are also expected to remain in isolation.
Von der Leyen said that that she hoped a European laboratory would come up with a vaccine against COVID-19 soon. But she warned: "Without a vaccine, we have to limit as much as possible contact with the elderly."
Setback for millions
Her remarks are a setback for millions of people forced to stay away from their elderly parents or grandparents.
Loved ones have been waving at each other through windows. And even if they meet, many people don't hug the elderly and vulnerable these days under social distancing guidelines to avoid infections.
At least some 115,000 deaths have been linked to the coronavirus worldwide, about half of them in Europe.
While several European countries seek to ease restrictions, the president of France, for instance, was due to announce even tougher lockdown rules later on Monday.