Trump acknowledged that the White House did not consult European leaders, making a comparison that appeared to reinforce the European views of a political dimension. The E.U., Trump said, doesn't call the White House before it raises taxes that hit U.S. companies.
"The Coronavirus is a global crisis, not limited to any continent and it requires cooperation rather than unilateral action," said the statement, which was co-signed by E.U. 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 statement said.
The ire from Brussels was a sign of just how little the two sides appear to be coordinating their response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We had to make a decision, and we didn’t want to take time,” Trump said Thursday in the Oval Office, explaining why the administration didn’t speak to most European countries prior to the move. He said that when E.U. countries “raise taxes on us, they don’t consult us.”
He spoke alongside Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, whose country was spared from the ban. Ireland has moved to close schools and other public institutions temporarily.
The late-night announcement by Trump led to panic at airports across Europe. Americans in Europe scrambled to change their tickets onto U.S.-bound flights at the last minute, often at premium prices.
European countries, meanwhile, took more steps intended to fend off the novel coronavirus.
Norway invoked its “strongest ever peacetime measures” to close most public and private institutions and to require travelers returning from abroad to self-quarantine for two weeks. The Czech Republic restricted border crossings with Austria and Germany. The Netherlands banned gatherings of more than 100 people. Slovakia cut off most travel from abroad. Belgium closed schools and shops.
In France, President Emmanuel Macron announced that all schools and universities in the country would be closed Monday until further notice. He said borders will remain open and noted that any possible frontier closures in the future would be coordinated with the E.U.
The virus also put a halt, for now, to negotiations over Britain’s departure from the European Union. Talks planned for next week have been scrapped.
Nothing could be done, however, to prop up financial markets. Stocks 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, was down nearly 10 percent Thursday, its lowest level in eight years. France’s CAC 40 index and Germany’s DAX index both fell by more than 11 percent. Wall Street followed suit.
The details of Trump’s travel restrictions also confounded many European leaders and policymakers, underscoring the view that the move was largely political.
“We can’t adequately meet this challenge — not even within the USA — when decisions being made are garnished with blame,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in an emailed statement, adding that reasons “less than factual” appeared to have played a role in Trump’s decision-making.
The ban covered only the Schengen area, the European Union’s border-free travel zone, a 26-nation region that does not include Britain or the Irish Republic. Any non-U.S. citizen who has been in the region in the past two weeks is included in the ban, with a handful of exceptions.
The E.U. is a regular target of Trump’s ire, and he has praised Britain’s exit from 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 more than 21,000 active cases of the novel coronavirus as of Thursday morning, and more than 900 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 about 500 active cases and 10 deaths, and Ireland had more than 40 active cases and one death.
Trump said Britain was excluded because it was “doing a good job” containing the virus.
But its active-case total rose by more than 30 percent Thursday from a day earlier. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson issued a dire warning Thursday evening. “I must level with you and the British public,” he said. “Many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time.”
Some in Europe wondered whether Britain and Ireland were exempted because they host 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 the novel coronavirus is now global. The energy and resources expended 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 on Thursday morning.
Thomas P. Bossert, a former U.S. homeland security adviser to Trump, also disputed 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 the 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.”
The move added to the sense that the world’s industrial powers were failing to work together to contain the virus and might even be working against one another.
Under previous presidents, the United States has often taken the lead in directing coordinated global responses to world challenges. Trump has sought to minimize the virus, and he has undermined his scientific advisers and blamed other countries for the pandemic. And he has also tangled with European countries — Washington’s closest allies — 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 recognize borders. Decisions should be based on facts, not politics.”
Birnbaum reported from Brussels. Quentin Ariès in Brussels, William Booth in London and Rick Noack in Berlin contributed to this report.