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European lawmakers reacted with disbelief on Thursday to President Donald Trump’s travel ban saying that the White House was simply looking for a scapegoat to deflect criticism from its own poor response to the crisis.
And public health experts agree.
"Many of us have been pointing out since the COVID-19 epidemic began that travel bans have a poor record on preventing the spread of epidemic diseases. At best travel bans only delay the spread of an epidemic by a short while," Paul Hunter, a professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, said in a statement circulated by the Science Media Centre.
The CDC said Wednesday that it has confirmed more than 1,250 people in 44 states and Washington, DC, have tested positive for coronavirus and at least 30 have died. But the true figures may be much higher, given the dearth of testing available in the U.S. compared to other countries.
There is already “community spreading” of the virus in the U.S., meaning that banning certain people from entering the country is not the most effective way to combat the crisis.
As well as criticism from experts, Trump’s decision was blasted by his own former officials.
“There’s little value to European travel restrictions. Poor use of time & energy. Earlier, yes. Now, travel restrictions/screening are less useful. We have nearly as much disease here in the US as the countries in Europe,” Tom Bossert, Trump’s former homeland security adviser, tweeted.
The travel ban also flies in the face of the World Health Organization’s decision to label the coronavirus outbreak as a pandemic on Wednesday: the designation calls for a global response to a problem that is effectively borderless.
A recent study published in Science revealed that the impact of travel bans was limited once an outbreak had taken hold in a country. Many countries including the U.S. imposed travel bans on travelers from China while countries like Australia have also imposed bans on travelers from Iran, Italy and South Korea, which have all experienced significant outbreaks.
“Modeling results also indicate that sustained 90% travel restrictions to & from China only modestly affect the epidemic trajectory unless combined with a 50% or higher reduction of transmission in the community,” the study said.
Trump announced in his Oval Office address on Wednesday night that “we will be suspending all travel from Europe to the United States for the next 30 days.”
But like many of Trump’s comments on the coronavirus outbreak, this was not in fact accurate.
What the U.S. has done is to impose a ban on air travel for foreign nationals from 26 European countries. However, flights from the U.K., Ireland, Russia, Romania, Serbia, Turkey, Ukraine and a dozen other European nations outside the so-called Schengen area, will continue, despite these countries reporting hundreds of confirmed cases of coronavirus and more than a dozen of deaths.
Coincidentally, excluding the U.K. and Ireland means all three of Trump’s golf resorts in Europe will not be impacted by the ban.
The ban also doesn’t impact U.S. citizens or foreign nationals who are legal permanent residents of the U.S or their spouses, parents, guardians, brother or sisters, and children.
The details of Trump’s ban mean that a steady flow of flights from Europe to the U.S. will continue. Any flights arriving from Europe will need to fly through specific airports where additional screening has been established — though such screening may not be effective.
“It’s not going to do anything to mitigate the spread here, so it makes [Trump] look silly and incompetent at a time when he needs to look well briefed and presidential,” Jim Goldgeier, Robert Bosch Senior Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institute, told Vox.
In Brussels, lawmakers said the ban was simply a way for Trump to pin the blame on someone else.
“Viruses know no borders or nationalities. Nationalism & blame games are no antidote. This is a global crisis, which requires global solidarity,” Dacian Cioloş, a former prime minister of Romania who now leads the Renew group in the European parliament tweeted to Trump.
Alexander Stubb, a former Finnish foreign minister, said that Trump’s decision to exclude the U.K. from a European travel ban was “nothing short of irresponsible.”
Cover: President Donald Trump speaks in an address to the nation from the Oval Office at the White House about the coronavirus Wednesday, March, 11, 2020, in Washington. (Doug Mills/The New York Times via AP, Pool)