Coronavirus: EU condemns Trump travel ban on 26 European countries

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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.

Shock and dismay on Embassy Row

Analysis from Tara McKelvey, BBC White House correspondent

The European ambassador was, naturally, diplomatic.

"We feel there should have been cooperation rather than action that targets one continent," the diplomat, who asked not to be named, says on the phone, referring to the travel ban. Mr Trump's action took him and other ambassadors in Washington by surprise.

Still he made his views about the travel ban, as well his frustration and anger about the restrictions, clear: "We are not very pleased," he says. "No."

Others are equally dismayed: the Atlantic Council's Daniel Fried, a former US ambassador to Poland, says he found the president's remarks disappointing: "Anti-EU bashing is indulgence." Ambassadors here in Washington, both current and former, are now waiting for the president's next move – with a fair amount of dread.

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.

Mr Trump called the ban 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.

Five mistakes in Trump's speech

1) "We will be suspending all travel from Europe to the United States for the next 30 days."

The restriction applies only to foreigners who've been in Schengen zone within the last 14 days – not American citizens, permanent residents, or their immediate family.

2) "These prohibitions will apply to the tremendous amount of trade and cargo, but various other things as we get approval."

As Mr Trump was forced to clarify soon after his speech, "the restriction stops people not goods".

3) Health insurers "have agreed to waive all co-payments for coronavirus treatments".

Co-payments – the cost that falls on insured patients for treatments – will only be waived for coronavirus testing, according to the lobby group America's Health Insurance Plans.

4) "We have been in frequent contact with our allies."

European leaders said the US acted "without consultation"

5) "Testing and testing capabilities are expanding rapidly, day by day. We are moving very quickly."

On Thursday, the top US official on infectious diseases, Anthony Fauci, said that Americans cannot get tests for the virus easily and that the country's testing system is currently not meeting demand.

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."

Skip Twitter post by @TomBossert

Theres little value to European travel restrictions. Poor use of time & energy. Earlier, yes. Now, travel restrictions/screening are less useful. We have nearly as much disease here in the US as the countries in Europe. We MUST focus on layered community mitigation measures-Now!

— Thomas P. Bossert (@TomBossert) March 12, 2020

End of Twitter post by @TomBossert

Senior Democrats said it was "alarming" that President Trump had not addressed a shortage of coronavirus testing kits in the US.

In other developments: