PARIS—Europeans woke to the news Thursday that U.S. President Donald Trump has banned most of them from traveling to the United States for at least a month. And while some of the details seemed to be confusing and contradictory, there was no mistaking his administration’s effort to blame their governments, and the European Union specifically, for the growing novel coronavirus crisis in the United States.
The pandemic is “not limited to any continent and it requires cooperation rather than unilateral action,” said a European Union statement on Thursday morning. Directly contradicting Trump’s assertion that his administration has been “in frequent contact with our allies,” they said the EU “disapproves of the fact that the U.S. decision to impose a travel ban was taken unilaterally and without consultation.”
In the meantime, media all over the Continent picked up on a line in testimony before Congress on Wednesday by Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Europe,” he said, “is the new China.”
Many commentators saw Trump’s action as overtly political, punishing the EU, which he has criticized frequently, while exempting the post-Brexit United Kingdom from the travel ban.
Embattled Trump Blames Europe for Coronavirus in the U.S., Bans Travel
“Trump needed a narrative to exonerate his administration from any responsibility in the crisis,” the former French ambassador to Washington, Gérard Araud, wrote on Twitter. “The foreigner is always a good scapegoat.” Since Trump had already blamed the Chinese, now it was the Europeans’ turn and not any Europeans, but those of the EU. “Doesn’t make sense but ideologically healthy,” at least from Trump’s point of view.
If Trump is looking for kudos from Great Britain for its exemption, he may be disappointed. Chancellor Rishi Sunak, asked Thursday morning about the travel ban, said: “We haven’t believed that that’s the right thing to do, the evidence here doesn’t support that. What we are trying to do is contain the virus while recognizing that it is now likely that it will spread more significantly.”
While Trump has been widely criticized for his administration’s handling of the pandemic looming on the American horizon, he has been praised for his relatively early decision to suspend travel from China and Iran. In his remarks from the Oval Office on Wednesday evening, he said, “The European Union failed to take the same precautions and restrict travel from China and other hot spots,” which is true.
“As a result,” Trump said, “a large number of new clusters in the United States were seeded by travelers from Europe.” In fact, as Trump’s own experts have testified, one of the biggest problems containing the spread of what Trump called “a foreign virus” in the U.S. has been the inability to identify the original source.
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According to World Health Organization numbers as of Wednesday, China, where the disease now known as COVID-19 was first diagnosed in December, has counted 80,955 infections and 3,162 deaths. In Europe the situation is indeed serious, but not yet that serious. Italy has been hit very hard, with more than 10,000 confirmed cases and 631 deaths, and Rome has taken extreme measures, effectively locking down the entire country to try to contain the spread of the disease. Great Britain has 373 confirmed cases.
The U.S. up to now has recorded 696 confirmed infections, but testing has been so poorly handled and so limited so far that the number is considered highly unreliable. As testing improves, the figure is expected to increase dramatically.
France, Spain and Germany each have between 1,000 and 2,000 confirmed cases, while the rest of the countries in what the World Health Organization calls “The European Region,” have fewer than 500, in most instances far fewer. But they are lumped together as part of what is called the Schengen Area, which includes 26 countries where travel is allowed without any border controls.
A week ago, Vice President Mike Pence was pointing this out—“The nature of the European Union is one doesn’t require a passport to move around”— signalling the administration’s consideration of the action taken by Trump on Wednesday night.
Read more at The Daily Beast.
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