U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to restrict travel from much of Europe for at least 30 days has left European leaders fuming and sent stock markets tumbling across the continent on Thursday.
“The European Union disapproves of the fact that the U.S. decision to impose a travel ban was taken unilaterally and without consultation,” said a terse statement on Thursday from European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and European Council president Charles Michel. “The coronavirus is a global crisis, not limited to any continent and it requires co-operation rather than unilateral action.”
European stock markets fell sharply Thursday morning with major indices down more than 5 per cent in early trading. Airline shares were hit especially hard as the IAG Group, which owns British Airways, fell 7 per cent, Air France-KLM was down 17 per cent and Lufthansa dropped 9 per cent. “The travel ban will raise expectations that the U.S. will enter recession. After all, Europe is a key source of tourists and business travel to North America and so there will be a large drop in spending which the region would normally enjoy,” said Russ Mould of London-based AJ Bell.
Mr. Trump announced the restrictions late Wednesday in an attempt to contain the new coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. The measures take effect on Friday and cover passenger traffic from 26 countries that are part of the Schengen common visa area. That includes most EU members such as Italy, France, Germany and Spain. It does not include Britain and Ireland, which are not part of the Schengen area. It’s unclear how the U.S. would control people who fly from the restricted countries to the U.S. through the U.K. or Ireland.
The President justified the ban by saying the EU had failed to take the same precautions as the U.S. in banning travel from China in order to stop the spread of the virus. “As a result, a large number of new clusters in the United States were seeded by travellers from Europe,” he said Wednesday.
That has infuriated some European parliamentarians. Dacin Cilos, a member of the European Parliament from Romania, accused Mr. Trump of trying to use the EU as a scapegoat. “Nationalism and blame games are no antidote,” Mr. Cilos wrote on Twitter. “This is a global crisis, which requires global solidarity [Mr. Trump]. Containment measures are needed, but not arbitrary ones. Europe will be your partner, but not your scapegoat.”
Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, said the U.K. was not considering a similar ban. “We haven’t believed that that’s the right thing to do, the evidence here doesn’t support that,” Mr. Sunak told the BBC on Thursday. “What we are trying to do is contain the virus while recognizing that it is now likely that it will spread more significantly.”
The EU has struggled to contain the virus, which has spread to all 27 member countries. According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, there are more than 22,000 cases of the virus across Europe and 923 people have died. The bulk of the outbreak is in Italy, which has 12,462 cases and 827 deaths. France and Spain each have more than 2,000 cases and have had 48 and 47 deaths, respectively. Britain has 456 cases and eight deaths. This week, Ms. von der Leyen announced a €7.5-billion, or $11.6-billion, ”corona response investment fund" to support health care, small businesses and workers.
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