President Donald Trump’s coronavirus travel ban on 26 European countries has been met with anger and confusion, with EU leaders accusing him of making the decision “without consultation”.
The Covid-19 pandemic is a “global crisis”, said European Commission presidents Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel.
It “requires cooperation rather than unilateral action,” they said.
The ban is due to go into effect on Friday at midnight EDT (0400 GMT).
It affects only countries that are members of the Schengen border-free travel area and does not affect US citizens, the UK, or Ireland.
It is a major escalation in the response to Covid-19 by Mr Trump, who has been accused of inaction. However, the ban was met with frustration in Washington as well as abroad.
On Thursday, the US leader said he did not inform his EU counterparts because “it takes time”.
“We had to move quickly,” Mr Trump said, adding that the EU did not consult the US when raising taxes on American goods.
Over 1,300 confirmed cases of the virus have been reported in the US, with 38 deaths so far.
Italy now has over 12,000 confirmed cases and 827 deaths, second to China. France, Spain and Germany have also seen a rise in cases.
What else did the US president say?
Announcing the ban from the Oval Office on Wednesday night, Mr Trump said: “This is the most aggressive and comprehensive effort to confront a foreign virus in modern history”.
He accused the EU of failing to take “the same precautions” as the US in fighting the virus to justify the ban.
In his speech he said all travel from Europe would be suspended, but a presidential proclamation later said it would only apply to anyone who had been in the EU’s Schengen border-free area in the 14 days before their arrival in the US.
The speech included plans to provide billions of dollars in loans to small businesses and the president urged Congress to free up more funds.
What’s the reaction?
Stocks plummeted following Mr Trump’s announcement, in which he said that the travel ban would also include trade and cargo. The statement was later retracted.
Trading on Wall Street was stopped on Thursday morning after the Dow Jones dropped 7% and UK indices fell to their lowest since the 2008 financial crisis.
Tom Bossert, Mr Trump’s former homeland security and counterterrorism adviser, criticised the ban, saying: “There’s little value to European travel restrictions. Poor use of time & energy.”
Senior Democrats said it was “alarming” that President Trump had not addressed a shortage of coronavirus testing kits in the US.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters on Thursday she found the ban “strange” as it was easy to travel to the UK from the countries affected by the ban.
European parliamentarian Guy Verhofstadt drew attention to other US concerns: “Instead of a travel ban for Europeans, Trump should make a decent health care system that works for all Americans: paid sick leave and Medicare for all.”
In other developments:
- Schools, colleges and other public facilities in the Republic of Ireland will being closed from 1800 Thursday local time to 29 March
- The worst-hit country outside of China, Italy, imposed further restrictions, closing nearly all shops, bars, hairdressers, restaurants and cafes until 25 March
- In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel, warned that up to 70% of the country’s population – some 58 million people – could contract the coronavirus
- India suspended most visas for foreigners until 15 April
- The UK is expected to switch to tactics aimed at delaying the spread of the virus rather than containing it
- Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Pablo Iglesias is self-isolating after his wife tested positive for the virus, the government says
- Greece reported its first coronavirus death, a 66-year-old returning from a pilgrimage in the Middle East
- Chinese health authorities have said that the peak of the outbreak in China is over. The virus first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan
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