Citing fear of the “foreign virus” spreading to the United States, U.S. President Donald Trump issued a ban on travels from most of mainland Europe, which incurred on Thursday widespread doubt, disapproval and condemnation from Europe.
“The European Union disapproves of the fact that the U.S. decision to impose a travel ban was taken unilaterally and without consultation. The European Union is taking strong action to limit the spread of the virus,” said a joint statement issued by European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
“Coronavirus is a global crisis, not limited to any continent and it requires cooperation rather than unilateral action,” it said.
Britain’s Chancellor Rishi Sunak said the U.S. ban was not the right thing to do, adding that “there isn’t evidence that interventions like closing borders or travel bans are going to have a material effect on the spread of the infections.”
French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday warned against the “nationalist withdrawal” as a pitfall to avoid at international level in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
“Internationally, I appeal to the responsibility of the G7 and G20,” said Macron. “As of tomorrow I will speak with President Trump to offer him an exceptional initiative.”
“It is not the division that makes it possible to respond to what is today a global crisis, but rather our ability to act together,” Macron added.
Though the U.S. State Department had assured the Finnish Embassy on Thursday that “the ban does not reflect hostility towards the EU or Europe”, Ville Skinnari, the Finnish Minister for Development Cooperation and Foreign Trade, said however the fact that the UK, not “immune to the coronavirus”, has been left outside “gives rise to speculation”.
Apart from political uproar, there has also been wide spread concern of the negative effect the ban will have on businesses.
Alain Battisti, president of French National Federation of Commercial Aviation, which represents 95 percent of French air transport sector, told French media LeParisien that it is “a political decision” and that French companies should lose “between one and two billion euros. “We are in an irrational crisis,” he said.
Finnish business representatives noted to local media that travel to the U.S. had been restricted already, but that the total ban would be a real nuisance.
In the meantime, many think the ban will not only alienate transatlantic relations but also a diversion of U.S. domestic problems.
“In a time where the EU is challenged to its core, the U.S. is closing its borders and turning its back on allies,” tweeted Benjamin Haddad, director of the Future Europe Initiative at Atlantic Council.
German government coordinator for transatlantic relations, Peter Beyer, accused Trump of politically abusing the coronavirus crisis. Beyer told the German Press Agency that the entry ban imposed by Trump is “excessive” for Europeans.
“It seems to be primarily a political decision,” said Beyer. “Politically misusing the coronavirus epidemic is critical and questionable.”
Beyer also criticized Trump for disseminating “misinformation to distract (attentions) from the weaknesses of the U.S. health system. In the U.S., the number of unreported cases of coronavirus is probably high because the people there have so far hardly been tested.”
“He (Trump) called the virus a foreign virus. Viruses don’t have passports, viruses don’t have visas. Viruses cross borders, obviously without problem,” Roland Lescure, French politician of La Republique En Marche (LREM) party told French media Franceinfo on Thursday.
Lescure accused Trump of diverting U.S. domestic issues by finding the European Union as an “ideal culprit”.
“The health system in the United States obviously is much less general and organized than ours. This is going to be the real challenge for the United States to adapt to viruses. It’s going to be a logistical nightmare,” Lescure said.
(Ren Ke in Berlin, Gui Tao in London, Wang Zichen in Brussels, Chen Chen and Xu Yongchun and Tang Ji in Paris, Juhani Niinisto in Helsinki and Yang Xiaohong in Prague contributed to the story.)