BRUSSELS >> The European Union today lashed out at President Donald Trump’s “unilateral” decision to restrict travel from Europe to the United States over the coronavirus, saying that the illness doesn’t respect borders.
Trump has called the disease a “foreign virus” and claimed that U.S. clusters were “seeded” by European travelers. He announced that all European travel would be cut off, but U.S. 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 in the 14 days prior to their arrival in the United States.
“The European Union disapproves of the fact that the U.S. 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, Germany, Greece, Austria and Belgium, where the bloc has its headquarters, but also others like Switzerland, Norway and Iceland.
The restrictions announced by Trump don’t apply to the United Kingdom, where the number of confirmed cases has reached almost 460, with eight deaths, or Ireland, which isn’t part of Schengen, and has 43 cases.
According to flight tracker FlightAware, around 400 flights cross the Atlantic from Europe to the United States 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 U.S. allies in NATO.
Trump has slapped tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Europe and threatened broader trade action, notably against European automakers. Trump has 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 Prime Minister Boris Johnson and supported Britain’s departure from the EU. The U.S. leader also owns three golf resorts in the U.K. and Ireland.
The exact impact of the restrictions is unclear and there is currently no U.S. ambassador in Brussels to help clarify things, after Trump fired the previous envoy, Gordon Sondland, last month.
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.
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, meanwhile, announced the closure of all schools, colleges, childcare facilities and cultural institutions from this evening until March 29. He encouraged people to work from home.
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, von der Leyen announced this week the launch of a “corona response investment fund” seeded with 7.5 billion euros that she said would reap billions more. It’s aimed at propping up health care structures, small businesses suffering from the impact of the virus and labor markets where jobs might be hit.
Several EU meetings have been canceled to slow the spread, but the bloc’s interior ministers are still scheduled to gather in Brussels on Friday. EU health ministers are holding regular meetings via video-conference.