Last updated on April 7th, 2020
In a public address last night, President Donald Trump stated that his administration has restricted travel from Europe for the next 30 days. These travel restrictions, which are effective immediately, apply to the 26 countries that are part of the Schengen Area. These countries are European Union members and allow free travel between member countries.
President Trump has criticized EU member countries’ open borders in the past, suggesting that its lack of border control contributes to the rise of Islamic terrorism in the continent. As such, he has been a staunch supporter of the United Kingdom’s secession from the EU, which the media refers to as Brexit.
Now Trump is blaming Schengen Area nations’ lack of border security as a contributing factor in the spread of the Coronavirus disease, which the World Health Organization has officially named COVID-19. His administration’s policies have traditionally had a nativist bent, and he has often made sure to broadcast his policies with absolutist language. Both features typically appeal to the jingoism of his supporter base.
Critics of his travel restrictions, including many publications, are deeming his restrictions a “travel ban.” However, the real nature of these restrictions is not as severe as he made them out to be in his public address last night.
Is It Really a European Travel Ban?
A travel ban on flights from Europe to the U.S. implies a complete halt of travel from the continent. In reality, Trump’s recently announced travel policy is more nuanced. As such, referring to the restrictions as an all-out ban may be misleading and create unnecessary pandemonium
For starters, the restrictions only apply to Schengen Area countries. The list includes 26 European nations that have open borders. Incidentally, these nations currently present the highest number of COVID-19 infections.
Why Schengen Nations?
Schengen countries include Italy, which is the country with the second highest infection rate after China, where the virus originated. Other Schengen countries include Spain, Germany, and France, which are the fifth, sixth, and seventh most infected countries in the world.
The reasoning for restricting travel from these 26 European countries may not only stem from member countries’ high caseloads. It’s argued that Schengen countries’ nearly complete lack of borders make it difficult to contain the virus in the region. Due to the stipulations of the Schengen Agreement, the body of nations cannot restrict one member-country’s citizens from traveling freely within the Schengen Area.
As a result, countries like the Czech Republic have called for the Italian government to place a travel ban on its own citizens to prevent them from leaving Italy. Most recently, Austria has banned entry to all Italian citizens. However, residents of Schengen Area nations still have little to no restrictions on travel between member nations.
Exceptions to the European Travel Restrictions
The United Kingdom and Ireland are most notably excluded from the list of restricted European countries. Some critics point to the Trump brand’s golfing properties in both nations as the cause of this exemption. This is especially suspicious when considering that the UK ranks tenth in the number of COVID-19 infections among European nations.
However, neither the UK nor Ireland are part of the Schengen area. Additionally, the UK is the 26th most infected European nation if you consider the proportion of infected people to the general population. In general, non-Schengen nations have presented far fewer total cases than Schengen member nations.
Nevertheless, current COVID-19 statistics suggest that President Trump’s travel restrictions may have been more politically motivated. For instance, there are six countries on the restricted list that have lower infection rates than the UK and Ireland. Additionally, epidemiologists have no conclusive evidence that restricting international travel helps stop the spread of the virus.
Americans Can Still Return Home
The European travel restrictions don’t apply to U.S. nationals. Legal permanent residents can return to the United States from Schengen Area countries. Additionally, immediate family members of U.S. citizens are also free to travel.
Nevertheless, U.S. nationals who are arriving from Europe are required to enter the United States at specific airports. There, they will undergo medical screening for the COVID-19 virus. Once they get medical clearance, they can return home.
Even though the travel restrictions don’t apply to U.S. citizens and legal residents, the CDC has issued a travel warning. It advises those returning from any part of Europe to remain in isolation for 14 days after returning home. This is regardless of whether or not they test positive for the new coronavirus.
The Center for Disease Control has also advised against non-essential travel to Europe. However, the CDC’s recommendations are not mandates. As such, Americans are still free to travel to and from Europe, at least for the time being. Furthermore, Americans are not required to self-quarantine and can therefore still infect the general population.
If you have made travel plans to Europe, many hotels have updated their cancellation policies to accommodate COVID-19 concerns.
What Trump Really Meant
Nearly four years into his term, the public is well aware of President Trump’s bombastic nature, especially when delivering public addresses. His announcement last night was no different. The President had to clarify and correct certain statements shortly after his appearance.
The biggest blunder he made was explicitly stating that the travel restrictions include goods in addition to people. These statements led to U.S. futures spiraling downward in real time as the President was delivering the news. Stocks in Europe and Asia also declined, and oil prices plummeted.
Trump later clarified on Twitter that the travel restrictions will not curtail trade. As such, restrictions are on human travel and not the transportation of goods. However, the damage was done and markets closed lower than they did at the end of February. Additionally, any travel restrictions have the potential to seriously curtail international trade.
The markets have been seriously affected by the news, and the President’s clarifications may not alleviate the situation.
A Call for Coronavirus Aid
President Trump ended his address with a congressional call for aid to those Americans who have been affected by the virus. He requested paid sick leave to hourly workers who risk their livelihood if they stay home.
Additionally, the President called for deferring tax for certain individuals and businesses. He is also urging the Small Business Administration to provide emergency loans for companies to remain in operation during the outbreak. Lastly, he called on congress to pass a payroll tax cut. All these measures intend to help businesses who have seen a decline in revenue due to what the WHO has deemed a global pandemic.
The President has also urged nursing homes to cease all non-essential visits to facilities for the time being. This is perhaps the only non-fiscal recommendation that the president has made with regards to the COVID-19 virus. Recent data has shown that the elderly present the highest fatality risks once infected. Limiting exposure to visitors may help prevent virus-related deaths. However, the final decision is still in the hands of nursing homes.
The Democrats Care, Too
The Democratic-led House of Representatives also presented wording for a proposed bill within hours of Trump’s address last night. The bill includes provisions for free COVID-19 testing in addition to emergency leave for workers and food security assistance.
In contrast to the President’s proposed relief measures, House Democrats’ bill leans more towards social services rather than fiscal policies. Voting will occur today in the House before, and political commentators predict that it will pass before moving to the Senate.
The bill may face some resistance in the Republican-led Senate, however. It is still unclear whether any of these recommendations will take effect and when the American public will see any of it. The Federal Open Markets Committee (FOMC) has already cut interest rates, which are affecting consumers’ credit card interest rates.