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Trump restricts travel from Europe in bid to tackle the coronavirus

President Donald Trump has announced a 30-day travel ban from much of mainland Europe starting Friday, March 13, as part of U.S. efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus, formally known as COVID-19. The U.K. and Ireland are exempt from the ban.

The surprise announcement came in an address to the nation on Wednesday night, a short time after the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic.

Trump said the European Union had failed to take the same precautions as the U.S. in restricting travel from China and other hot spots where the virus has taken hold.

“As a result, a large number of new clusters in the United States were seeded by travelers from Europe,” the president said. “To keep new cases from entering our shores, we will be suspending all travel from Europe to the United States for the next 30 days. The new rules will go into effect Friday at midnight.”

The travel restriction applies to 26 countries inside Europe’s so-called Schengen Area, specifically: 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.

It added that exemptions will be made for all U.S. legal permanent residents and immediate family members of U.S. citizens.

The European Union (EU) responded on Thursday to Trump’s decision, saying that it was made without consultation with the EU.

“The European Union disapproves of the fact that the U.S. decision to impose a travel ban was taken unilaterally and without consultation,” European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a joint statement to the Associated Press. “The coronavirus is a global crisis, not limited to any continent, and it requires cooperation rather than unilateral action.”

Airlines flying between Europe and the U.S. are yet to react to the decision.

The travel restriction will apply not only to people but also to “the tremendous amount of trade and cargo,” Trump told the nation. He also said there would be restrictions on “various other things,” suggesting that precise details regarding some parts of the ban are yet to be hammered out, or at least disclosed.

One thing is for sure — many people who were expecting to fly to the U.S. from mainland Europe in the coming days had a nasty shock waiting for them when they wake up on Thursday morning.

It’s not clear why the U.K. and Ireland have been excluded from the travel ban, but airlines such as British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, as well as U.S. carriers flying to the U.K. and Ireland, are likely to see an uptick in reservations as people in mainland Europe book flights to the U.S. through U.K. and Irish airports. Demand on flights into Canada and Mexico from Europe could also increase during this month and next.

Several hours after Trump’s address, the White House tweeted further details, saying that the “travel restriction applies to foreign nationals who have been in 26 European countries with open borders agreements in the last 14 days.” This appears to be an attempt to stop people in mainland Europe from circumventing the restriction by traveling to the U.S. via airports outside of the Schengen Area. The White House added: “Those exempt from these restrictions, such as U.S. citizens, will be directed to limited airports where screening can take place.”

Trump later tweeted that the restriction “stops people not goods,” in an apparent reversal of what he said in his address.

The impact of the restriction on the tech industry is too early to say, but we expect affected companies on both sides of the pond to make their feelings known in the coming 24 hours. The European Union’s reaction will also be key in this rapidly developing situation.

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Trevor Mogg
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