BRUSSELS: The EU will on Thursday assess the travel ban on Europe imposed by US President Donald Trump, European Council President Charles Michel said, adding: “Economic disruption must be avoided.”
The tweet by Michel, who coordinates action by the leaders of the EU’s 27 member states, followed an overnight decision by Trump to suspend travel from Europe — but not Britain which is no longer part of the bloc — to the US for 30 days in a bid to stop the spread of the new coronavirus.
“Following the travel ban President Trump announced, we will assess the situation today,” Michel said.
“Europe is taking all necessary measures to contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus, limit the number of affected people and support research,” he said.
Taking dramatic action, President Donald Trump announced Wednesday he is sharply restricting passenger travel from 26 European nations to the US and moving to ease the economic cost of a viral pandemic that is roiling global financial markets and disrupting the daily lives of Americans.
Trump, in a rare Oval Office address to the nation, said the month-long restriction on travel would begin late Friday, at midnight. After days of playing down the coronavirus threat, he blamed Europe for not acting quickly enough to address the “foreign virus” and claimed that US clusters were “seeded” by European travelers.
“We made a lifesaving move with early action on China,” Trump said. “Now we must take the same action with Europe.”
Trump said the restrictions won’t apply to the United Kingdom, and there would be exemptions for “Americans who have undergone appropriate screenings.” He said the US would monitor the situation to determine if travel could be reopened earlier.
The State Department followed Trump’s remarks by issuing an extraordinary global health advisory cautioning US citizens to “reconsider travel abroad” due to the virus and associated quarantines and restrictions.
Trump spoke after days of confusion in Washington and in the face of mounting calls on the president to demonstrate greater leadership. At times, though, his remarks contributed to the uncertainty.
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While Trump said all European travel would be cut off, Homeland Security officials later clarified that the new travel restrictions would apply only to most foreign nationals who have been in the “Schengen Area” at any point for 14 days prior to their scheduled arrival to the United States. The area includes France, Italy, German, Greece, Austria, Belgium and others, and the White House said the zone has the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases outside of mainland China.
The restrictions don’t apply to legal permanent residents, immediate family of US citizens or others “identified in the proclamation” signed by Trump.
And Trump misspoke when he said the prohibitions would “not only apply to the tremendous amount of trade and cargo, but various other things.” The official proclamation released after Trump spoke made clear it applies to people, not goods and cargo.
The Oval Office address represented an abrupt shift in tone from a president who has repeatedly sought to play down the severity of the virus outbreak. Many Americans shared a similar mindset in recent weeks, but the grueling events of Wednesday changed the mood: Communities canceled public events nationwide, universities moved to cancel in-person classes, and families grappled with the impact of disruptions to public schools. The number of confirmed cases of the infection topped 1,000 in the US and the World Health Organization declared the global crisis is now a pandemic.
Even as Trump spoke from behind the Resolute Desk, the pandemic’s ferocious rewriting of American daily life continued. The National Basketball Association suspended its season, and Oscar-winning actor Tom Hanks announced that he and his wife, Rita Wilson, had tested positive for COVID-19. The first confirmed case on Capitol Hill was reported in a legislative staffer.
After Trump spoke, the White House canceled a planned trip by the president to Nevada and Colorado this week, “out of an abundance of caution.” Trump’s re-election campaign also postponed a planned March 19 event in Milwaukee that was set to feature the president.
After a week of mixed messages and false starts, and as government officials warned in increasingly urgent terms that the outbreak in the US will only get worse, Washington suddenly seemed poised to act.
After Trump’s address, Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced a series of moves, including restrictions for 60 days on travel by servicemembers, Defense Department civilians and their families to, from and through the four counties currently designated by the Centers for Disease Control as the highest risk COVID-19 counties — China, Iran, South Korea and Italy.
In his remarks, Trump focused more on the threat of travel continuing to bring in illness when, in fact, in parts of the country there already is “community spread” — meaning people who don’t have a known travel exposure are becoming infected.
In an omission that Democratic leaders called “alarming,” Trump left unaddressed the testing backlog that is hampering efforts to learn just how many Americans already are infected. And while he warned the elderly to avoid risky crowds, advised nursing homes to suspend visitors and told sick people to stay home from work, he didn’t address one of the biggest concerns — whether hospitals are equipped to handle the sick or will be overwhelmed.
Trump, 73, is considered at higher risk because of his age and has repeatedly flouted the advice of public health experts, who have advised the public to stop hand-shaking and practice social distancing. But that didn’t stop him from calling on fellow citizens to help combat the virus’ spread. “For all Americans, it is essential that everyone take extra precautions and practice good hygiene. Each of us has a role to play in defeating this virus,” he said.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.