"The Coronavirus is a global crisis, not limited to any continent and it requires cooperation rather than unilateral action," the statement read, co-signed by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel.
“The European Union disapproves of the fact that the U.S. decision to impose a travel ban was taken unilaterally and without consultation.”
The ire from Brussels was another sign of just how little the two sides appear to be coordinating their response to the pandemic. European officials scrambled to play catch-up Thursday to understand the reasoning behind the ban. The U.S. Mission to the European Union declined to answer questions about how it was explaining the restrictions to European colleagues.
Most of Europe woke to the news in shock, and markets plummeted in the aftermath of the White House announcement.
In Britain, the benchmark FTSE 100 index, which tracks the 100 largest firms on the London Stock Exchange, fell Thursday morning on news of Trump’s travel ban. The steep drop brought the FTSE to its lowest level in eight years. France’s CAC 40 index fell by more than 10 percent. Germany’s DAX index fell by 9 percent.
Wall Street followed suit. Stocks plunged deeper after days of major losses. As in Europe, the U.S. sell-off was driven in part by fallout from Trump’s travel block.
The details of the travel restrictions also confounded many European leaders and policymakers, underscoring the view that the decision was largely political.
The ban on flights covered only the Schengen area, the European Union’s border-free travel zone, a 26-nation region that does not include Britain or Ireland. The European Union has been a regular target for Trump’s irritation, and he has praised Britain for quitting the bloc. But there are more cases of coronavirus in Britain than in many of the countries covered by the ban.
Across the 26 nations hit by the ban, there were 21,080 active cases of coronavirus as of Thursday morning, and 952 deaths, according to a database maintained by Johns Hopkins University. Italy was the locus of the pandemic, with more than half of the active cases — 10,590 — and the vast majority of deaths, 827.
Britain had 430 active cases and eight deaths, while Ireland had 42 active cases and one death. Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar planned to meet Trump on Thursday in Washington as part of St. Patrick’s Day events.
Some in Europe wondered if Britain and Ireland were exempted because they contain Trump-owned properties.
In any case, the decision appeared to confound even leaders of the British government and former U.S. homeland security officials, who said that scientific evidence did not support travel restrictions.
Critics of the ban said travel restrictions — such as those imposed on China early in the crisis — no longer make sense given that coronavirus is now global. The energy and resources on the closures would be better spent on expanding U.S. hospital capacity, some experts said.
“With regard to flight bans, we are always guided by the science as we make our decisions here. The advice we are getting is 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,” Rishi Sunak, Britain’s chancellor of the exchequer, told the BBC.
Thomas P. Bossert, a former U.S. homeland security adviser to Trump, also dismissed the value of flight bans.
“There’s little value to European travel restrictions. Poor use of time & energy,” Bossert said Thursday on Twitter. “Earlier, yes. Now, travel restrictions/screening are less useful. We have nearly as much disease here in the US as the countries in Europe. We MUST focus on layered community mitigation measures-Now!”
In continental Europe, many felt that the White House’s decision was another political strike at already enfeebled transatlantic relationship between the United States and some of its closest allies.
“Trump needed a narrative to exonerate his administration from any responsibility in the crisis. The foreigner is always a good scapegoat. The Chinese has already been used. So, let’s take the European, not any Europe, the EU-one,” Gérard Araud, France’s former ambassador to the United States, said in a statement posted on Twitter. “Doesn’t make sense but [it is] ideologically healthy.”
In his announcement, Trump specifically referred to what he called a “foreign virus” that “started in China and is now spreading throughout the world.”
The move added to the sense that the world’s industrial powers were failing to work with each other to contain the virus, and might even be working against each other.
Under previous presidents, the United States has often taken the lead in directing a coordinated global response to world challenges. Trump has sought to minimize the virus, undermine his scientific advisers and blame other countries for the pandemic. And he has also tangled with European countries for three years on issues of defense spending, climate change and trade.
“Any attempt to contain the #CoronaOutbreak is welcome, but the decision of @realDonaldTrump to exclude the UK from a European travel ban is nothing short of irresponsible,” former Finnish prime minister Alexander Stubb wrote on Twitter. “Viruses do not recognise borders. Decisions should be based on facts, not politics.”
Trump’s announcement led to panic at various European airports. American travelers scrambled to change their tickets onto U.S. bound flights at the last minute, often at premium prices.
The lack of a coordinated response seemed to extend inside Europe, too. The Czech Republic on Thursday announced limited border restrictions with Austria and Germany. The move came a day after Austria said that Italians could only cross its frontiers if they can produce a recent test certifying they are coronavirus-free.
Quentin Ariès in Brussels, William Booth in London and Rick Noack in Berlin contributed to this report.