President Donald Trump outlined the White House’s coronavirus response in a Wednesday night Oval Office address — and so far, it looks to have done little to assuage the concerns of state and local officials who are trying to prevent Covid-19’s spread in their communities.
The administration’s decision to implement a 30-day ban on all travel from Europe — or specifically, the European Union’s 26 Schengen countries that allow for freedom of movement (excluding places like Ireland and the United Kingdom that have coronavirus but also, incidentally, happen to have Trump resorts) — tanked US stock markets this morning, while foreign trading floors also tumbled.
Many public health experts and officials dismissed the travel ban as a distraction because the coronavirus is already rapidly spreading in the United States, with more than 1,300 cases as of March 12. The travel restriction will sap resources, time, and widen a rift with European allies, who say they were given no notice of the extraordinary measures.
Meanwhile, state and local governments in the US are trying to take aggressive measures to slow the spread of the virus. St. Patrick’s Day parades are postponed or canceled. The NBA will suspend its season indefinitely after a player tested positive for the virus. March Madness will be a lot less mad, played in empty arenas. Schools are shut and concerts are called off. The country is beginning to accept a new reality, and so is the rest of the world.
Europe reacts to Trump’s travel ban
In a primetime address from the Oval Office Wednesday night, Trump said that the United States will be suspending all travel from Europe to the United States for the next 30 days. The order will go into effect Friday at midnight. Trump also noted that “[t]here will be exemptions for Americans who have undergone appropriate screenings.”
Trump described the measure as a way “to keep new cases from entering our shores.”
The president noted that the United Kingdom — with whom the US is expected to formally begin trade talks soon — would be exempted, and the official order later clarified that it would only encompass the European Union’s 26 Schengen countries, which covers most EU member states like Germany and France, and a few, like Norway, that abide by the EU’s freedom of movement rules.
Along with the UK, the order leaves off Ireland and other non-Schengen countries like Romania and Croatia. Coronavirus has spread across Europe regardless of Schengen status, with some outside the ban, specifically the UK, dealing with far more serious outbreaks than some of those countries still in the European Union.
It was the middle of the night in Europe when Trump gave his address. But Thursday morning, European leaders slammed the administration for its travel restrictions and said they had been caught unaware about the announcement.
“The Coronavirus is a global crisis, not limited to any continent, and it requires cooperation rather than unilateral action,” President of the European Council Charles Michel and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement.
“The European Union disapproves of the fact that the US decision to impose a travel ban was taken unilaterally and without consultation,” they added. “The European Union is taking strong action to limit the spread of the virus.”
That the Trump administration didn’t consult its European partners isn’t really surprising at this point, but it doesn’t make it any less troublesome. The president has repeatedly picked fights with the European Union over things like trade and NATO contributions, painting US allies as trying to “take advantage” of the US. Given the global nature of pandemics, the travel ban will likely do little to slow the spread within the United States, though countries across the world are encouraging their citizens to take precautions, including limiting travel. Critics argue that Trump’s restrictions look like a political ploy, as well as an attempt to punt blame for the virus’s spread.
The European Union is being profoundly tested by this virus: Even within the bloc, some leaders have called to restrict freedom of movement, a core principle of the EU. Italy, the hardest hit country in Europe, has called on the EU to do more to assist. Even China has stepped in, providing medical equipment and expertise to Europe as it fights Covid-19. It’s a role the US might have once filled.
Ban aside, European countries are taking more aggressive measures to combat Covid-19
The entire country of Italy is under quarantine until April 3 as it grapples with widespread transmission: cases now top 12,000, with more than 800 deaths. On Wednesday, Italy further stepped up its social distancing restrictions, ordering most shops and businesses to close, except supermarkets and pharmacies, until March 25. Bars, cafes, and restaurants in Italy are being shut down.
Other European countries are also pursuing more robust measures. Denmark, with more than 500 cases, will now shut all schools and send home many public sector workers for at least two weeks. According to Yahoo News, cultural institutions like libraries are closed, and the government is encouraging houses of worship and other places to shut down.
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, while in Washington, DC, for a White House visit, announced the closing of schools, universities, and child care facilities until March 29. Ireland has a little more than 40 coronavirus cases to date.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave a somber speech Wednesday, warning that as much as 70 percent of the country could be at risk of infection. But, she said, all of Germany would need to rally to follow restrictions and protect their fellow citizens, especially the old, ill, and other vulnerable groups.
“This is putting our solidarity, our common sense and our openheartedness for one another to the test,” Merkel said. “I hope that we will pass it.”
Basketball in the age of a coronavirus pandemic
Public health officials are urging people to avoid large gatherings, and so the question of what would happen with sports — with thousands of fans packed together in arenas — has been an urgent question during this crisis.
Now, there are some answers. The National Basketball Association (NBA) announced Wednesday that it is suspending games indefinitely, after a player on the Utah Jazz tested positive for the coronavirus. Prior to the announcement, a game featuring the Jazz was abruptly called off about a half-hour before tip-off, with thousands of fans already in attendance.
What a scene. Game between Thunder and Jazz postponed with everyone in the stands. “You are all safe,” PA announcer says repeatedly. pic.twitter.com/1FOeLHYYC6
— Alex Kantrowitz (@Kantrowitz) March 12, 2020
Teams like the Golden State Warriors had already begun to play games without fans because of the coronavirus, but now the NBA is taking a far more dramatic step. And while sports are not exactly the top priority in a global pandemic (though, might be nice to watch while stuck at home!), how sports leagues handle their response, as Recode’s Peter Kafka pointed out, might also “snap Americans’ focus” in a way that other things might not.
The NBA’s announcement came a few hours after the NCAA decided that all of its March Madness tournament games (both men’s and women’s) would be played in empty arenas, operating with just limited staff and family in attendance, according to the organization. Other less well-known tournaments, such as the College Basketball Invitational, have also been canceled.
A buzzer-beater might feel a lot different in a quiet arena, but the NCAA, like the NBA, is taking recommendations from public health officials who are urging people to avoid large crowds. Washington state banned public gatherings of more than 250 people in a few counties at the heart of its outbreak. San Francisco has suspended groups of 1,000 or more. These measures may seem extreme, but in the coming days are very likely to become the new normal.