Trump’s Europe travel ban likely won’t stop US coronavirus spread
President Donald Trump announced a sweeping ban on travelers from Europe to the United States as part of the administration’s plan to fight the coronavirus – a move that experts say distracts from the reality that the virus is already spreading among people in the United States.
In a prime-time address from the Oval Office on Wednesday evening, Trump said the United States would suspend all travel from Europe to the United States for the next 30 days, although the United Kingdom is exempt. . The order will go into effect Friday at midnight. Trump also noted that “[t]there will be exemptions for Americans who have undergone appropriate screenings.
Trump described the measure as a way “to keep new cases from entering our shores.”
The problem, experts say, is that the virus has already entered US shores, and we are already seeing “community spread” of the virus – that is, people with no international travel and no connection to cases known people are now contracting the virus, implying that they were exposed locally from an unknown source.
All in all, it was an extraordinary move, but one that may do little to stop or mitigate the spread of the coronavirus – while potentially damaging the already somewhat strained US relationship with its allies. Europeans.
“Germs don’t respect borders, and you can’t fence off every place in the world,” Lawrence Gostin, director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at the law school, told me. from Georgetown University.
“There’s a fine line between the president’s pro-American and anti-internationalist stance where he thinks he can restrict his borders on things like trade or immigration,” he added. “It doesn’t work with a germ – especially with a germ that’s already there.”
What we know about Trump’s travel ban
In his speech, Trump said freight and other trade would also be subject to the ban, immediately sparking fears of new economic disruption – but it turns out that Trump seems to have misspoken, as the White House later clarified that the prohibition did not apply to property, just to people. A sign, perhaps, of the botched deployment of this order.
The Department of Homeland Security further clarified that the ban will apply to all foreign nationals who have been physically in Europe 14 days prior to entering or attempting to enter the United States. It encompasses the 26 countries of the “Schengen area”, a grouping of countries in Europe that allow their citizens to travel freely across national borders, including France, Germany, Spain, Italy, among others.
The command excludes non-Schengen European countries, such as Ireland and Croatia. The ban also exempts the UK. Coronavirus cases are spreading in both European Schengen and non-Schengen countries, so the gaps undermine the effectiveness of any travel restrictions.
Order does not apply to legal permanent United States residents, according to DHS. The United States also cannot prevent American citizens from returning, although it can probably put in place screening or quarantine measures, if necessary.
The White House, in its proclamation, described the Schengen countries as having the most cases – more than 17,000 – of the novel coronavirus outside of mainland China. That’s true, though those cases are spread across 26 countries, with some, like Italy, facing more acute outbreaks.
But other EU countries have far milder outbreaks so far. The UK – which, again, is excluded from the ban – has more than 450 cases of coronavirus.
Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf justified the travel ban by saying the administration had imposed similar travel restrictions on those who had been to China and Iran. This “proven to be effective in slowing the spread of the virus in the United States, while public health officials prepared,” he said in a statement.
The problem, of course, is that the coronavirus is already here.
A travel ban could miss the point at this point
As of March 11, there were more than 1,300 cases in the United States. That number is expected to rise, but some experts say testing issues have likely delayed a full accounting of the number of people infected.
As state and local governments take steps to mitigate community spread – banning large events and encouraging “social distancing” – it is not so clear that spending resources on such dramatic travel restrictions will effectively mitigate the spread. epidemic in the United States.
Public health officials in the United States widely discourage travel, especially for the elderly and those with underlying conditions who are at higher risk of contracting and suffering serious consequences from the coronavirus. The Department of State also asks U.S. citizens to “reconsider” traveling abroad due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Traveler testing may – or may not – help prevent people from bringing the virus to new communities in the United States, but the World Health Organization advises against using “unnecessary” travel restrictions as a tool to try to stop the spread of a virus.
“It will do nothing to mitigate the spread here, so it makes [Trump] looking silly and incompetent at a time when he has to look knowledgeable and presidential,” Jim Goldgeier, Robert Bosch Senior Visiting Scholar at the Brookings Institute, told Vox.
Trump announced the ban late Wednesday evening, which is the middle of the night for much of Europe, so reactions from the continent so far have been somewhat muted. It’s also unclear how much notice the United States gave its European partners about the administration’s order.
As Georgetown Law’s Gostin said, germs don’t respect borders. And at a time when international cooperation and coordination is needed more than ever, Trump’s travel order could create more tension and distract from the real crisis already unfolding in the United States.
Alex Ward contributed reporting.