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Coronavirus: EU slams Trump for 'unilateral' move to ban flights to U.S.

By
Don Jacobson & Danielle Haynes
Travelers stand in line at the Adolfo-Suarez Barajas International Airport in Madrid on March 12, 2020. Photo by Emilio Naranjo/EPA-EFE
Travelers stand in line at the Adolfo-Suarez Barajas International Airport in Madrid on March 12, 2020. Photo by Emilio Naranjo/EPA-EFE

March 12 (UPI) -- Leaders of the European Union reacted harshly Thursday to the decision by U.S. President Donald Trump to bar travel into the United States for 30 days, saying he failed to consult with the 27-member bloc about the coronavirus pandemic that keeps slamming the travel industry.

Trump announced in a national address Wednesday night that no flights from Europe's "Schengen Area" -- where travel is permitted between countries without passports or border controls -- will be allowed into the United States beginning at midnight Friday.

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Travelers who have been in any of those 26 nations within two weeks of their scheduled travel to the United States will be denied entry. The affected countries are 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.

Thursday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel criticized Trump's decision, particularly because the U.S. leader didn't seek advice or feedback from the EU.

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"The coronavirus is a global crisis, not limited to any continent and it requires cooperation rather than unilateral action," they said in a statement. "The European Union disapproves of the fact that the U.S. decision to impose a travel ban was taken unilaterally and without consultation.

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"The European Union is taking strong action to limit the spread of the virus."

Speaking to reporters at the White House Thursday, Trump dismissed the criticisms.

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"We had to make a decision, and we didn't want to take time," he said.

Foreign nationals who have been to one of the Schengen Area countries within the last 14 days will be denied U.S. entry and affected U.S. citizens abroad must be booked through "an approved airport."

Trump decided on a 14-day period because that's the incubation period for the coronavirus disease.

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EU leaders held a conference call Tuesday to formulate a strategy for confronting the outbreak, which is now deemed a pandemic by the World Health Organization. They agreed to set up a $28 billion fund to cushion its economic impact and to work to ensure adequate medical equipment and supplies.

Trump said the ban will not affect travel from Britain and there will be exemptions for Americans overseas who have undergone appropriate screening.

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Johns Hopkins University, which has been tracking global coronavirus cases, said there were more than 1,300 cases in the United States by Thursday morning and 38 deaths. The university's tally says eight cases have recovered in a handful of states.

Trump's travel ban was another blow to the global travel industry, which has seen passenger demand plummet over the past week. Many U.S. carriers have responded by significantly reducing flights and capacity to and from coronavirus-heavy areas, like China.

Most U.S. airlines responded by saying they will comply with Trump's ban on flights from Europe.

Delta Air Lines said it will continue to "quickly make adjustments to service, as needed, in response to government travel directives." United Airlines also indicated it would meet the president's directive.

American Airlines said Thursday it will "work closely with U.S. authorities to comply with these new orders while treating all of our customers with respect."

Wednesday, German carrier Lufthansa announced it will cancel about 23,000 flights due to "exceptional circumstances caused by the spread of the coronavirus."

Norwegian Air said it's suspending more than 4,000 flights and temporarily laying off up to 50 percent of employees in all departments. More layoffs could come depending on the length of travel disruptions.

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Shares of European airlines reacted negatively Thursday to the ban. Air France-KLM, easyjet and British Airways' parent company all saw losses of about 5 percent in trading Thursday afternoon. Norwegian Air Shuttle was down 20 percent at one point.

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