EU condemns Trump travel ban from Europe as virus spreads

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union (EU) yesterday lashed out at United States (US) President Donald Trump’s “unilateral” decision to restrict travel from Europe to the US over the coronavirus, saying the illness does not respect borders.

Trump called the disease a “foreign virus” and claimed that US clusters were “seeded” by European travellers. He announced that European travel would be cut off, but US officials later said that restrictions would apply only to most foreign citizens who have been in Europe’s passport-free travel zone at any point for 14 days prior to their arrival to the US.

“The EU disapproves of the fact that the US decision to impose a travel ban was taken unilaterally and without consultation,” European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a joint statement.

“The coronavirus is a global crisis, not limited to any continent and it requires cooperation rather than unilateral action,” the two said.

They rejected Trump’s suggestion that Europe is not doing enough to combat COVID-19, saying that the 27-nation bloc “is taking strong action to limit the spread of the virus”.

The so-called Schengen area comprises 26 countries including EU members France, Italy, German, Greece, Austria and Belgium, where the bloc has its headquarters, but also others like Switzerland, Norway and Iceland.

The restrictions announced by Trump do not apply to the United Kingdom (UK), where the number of confirmed cases reached 460, or Ireland, which is not part of Schengen.

According to flight tracker FlightAware, around 400 flights cross the Atlantic from Europe to the US each day.

The unprecedented measure is one of many taken by Trump since he came to office that appears to target the EU, a major trading partner with several member countries that are also US allies in NATO.

Trump slapped tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Europe and threatened broader trade action, notably against European automakers. Trump also abandoned an international climate agreement backed by France, as well as the EU sponsored deal limiting Iran’s nuclear development.

But Trump is also an ally of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and supported Britain’s departure from the EU. The US leader also owns three golf resorts in the UK and Ireland.

Asked what immediate action the EU might take in response, commission spokesman Eric Mamer said that the EU “isn’t in the habit of shooting from the hip”.

“Good policy-making requires reflection,” Mamer said.

According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control’s latest figures, more than 22,000 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed across Europe, and 943 people have died on the continent.

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.

With the virus now present in all 27 EU countries, the bloc’s top officials pledged to stand united in fighting the disease and are likely to adopt a common approach in their response to Trump’s announcement.

This week, von der Leyen announced the launch of a “corona response investment fund” seeded with EUR7.5 billion that she said would reap billions more.