It is not the most urgent problem right now, but once the outbreak is over our allies are going to remember how our government treated them in the middle of a pandemic. Instead of the solidarity and cooperation that one would expect between allies, they get a gratuitous travel ban.European officials strongly condemned President Trump’s decision to severely restrict travel from Europe to the United States on Thursday, a sudden move that took them by surprise and that many saw as politically motivated.
Of all the slights between Washington and Europe in recent years, the new travel restrictions represented a blow an order of magnitude beyond previous disputes. In a short statement on Thursday morning rare in its directness, the European Union expressed only exasperation.
Administration officials had to issue multiple clarifications to reassure the public that the president had not meant what he had just told us. It turns out that “Europe” only refers to people who have been in Schengen zone nations, and it doesn’t apply to goods at all. The U.K. was exempted, which makes the targeting of the ban seem driven by political bias more than anything else. That was not lost on European leaders:There will be exemptions for Americans who have undergone appropriate screenings, and these prohibitions will not only apply to the tremendous amount of trade and cargo, but various other things as we get approval. Anything coming from Europe to the United States is what we are discussing.
Many policymakers said Thursday that the fact that the travel ban excludes Britain, where coronavirus is already spreading, but which is led by a populist leader who has sought to build ties to Trump, was a sign that the ban was political rather than driven by science.