In a rare Oval Office address, the president said the US would ban travel from countries in the European Union to the US for 30 days, blaming the EU countries for not acting quickly enough to address the “foreign virus”.
The White House and the Department of Homeland Security worked to clarify the restrictions following Trump’s speech. But many details remained unclear, raising questions about whether the response is the most effective to address a growing crisis.
Here’s what we know:
Who is affected?
The restrictions apply to most foreign nationals who have been in the 26 countries of the Schengen Area during the 14 days before their planned arrival in the US.
The countries affected include: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.
Following the Oval Office speech, the White House also clarified that the travel restriction would not apply to goods and cargo coming from the EU. “The restriction stops people not goods,” Trump said in a tweet.
In past weeks, the US had already temporarily denied entry to foreign nationals who have visited China in the 14 days prior to their arrival to the US, issued travel restrictions on travelers from Iran and had issued “do not travel” warnings to areas in Italy and South Korea.
When do they start and how long will they last?
Trump said the restrictions would begin at 11.59pm on Friday. He said they were scheduled to last 30 days but could be adjusted subject to conditions on the ground.
How will the travel suspension work?
It’s unclear at the moment, and crucial questions – including how the US would account for travelers who often hop between the EU and UK – have yet to be answered. The acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security has said that further guidance on the travel suspension will come within the next two days.
Will this be effective?
With details of the policy unclear, the Trump administration continues to face questions about its response to a rapidly spreading global crisis.
A recent study published in Science found that the effectiveness of travel restrictions in China was limited once the disease had spread widely within the country. On 23 January, Chinese officials banned travel in and out of Wuhan, where the Covid-19 outbreak began. But by then, the virus had spread to other cities. The travel ban only delayed the progression of the outbreak by three to five days, according to the study.
Daniel Drezner, a professor of International politics at Tufts University’s Fletcher School, told the Guardian that he questioned whether limiting travel from Europe would amount to anything more than “a drop in the bucket”, given the number of cases already reported in the US. “It seems to me that Stephen Miller was looking for a boogey-man and he found one in Europe,” Drezner said, referring to Trump’s aide who is an anti-immigration hardliner.
Democrats were also swift to criticize Trump’s approach, calling out the president for failing to address the shortage of testing kits that has hampered containment efforts across the country.
“We have a public health crisis in this country and the best way to help keep the American people safe and ensure their economic security is for the president to focus on fighting the spread of the coronavirus itself,” the Democratic leaders of the Senate and House said in a joint statement. “Alarmingly, the president did not say how the administration will address the lack of coronavirus testing kits throughout the United States.”