President Donald Trump announced a sweeping travel ban in his Wednesday evening address to the nation about the coronavirus pandemic.
“To keep new cases from entering our shores, we will be suspending all travel from Europe to the United States for the next 30 days,” he stated. “The new rules will go into effect Friday at midnight. These restrictions will be adjusted subject to conditions on the ground.”
The announcement sparked a great deal of confusion about the ban’s timing, who is affected, how it will be enforced and whether it will be effective in curbing the spread of COVID-19. The European Union was apparently also caught off guard.
So what exactly does this travel ban mean?
Which countries and people are included?
The ban applies to foreign nationals who have been in the 26 countries that make up the Schengen Area ― the European zone that allows free and open movement across borders ― during the past two weeks.
Those countries are Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.
The ban excludes countries in Europe that aren’t part of the Schengen Area, including Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and the U.K.
U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, as well as the spouses, parents and children under age 21 of citizens and permanent residents, are exempt from the ban.
There are also exceptions for plane and ship crew members, foreign government officials and their immediate family, foreign nationals who work for the U.S. armed forces, foreign nationals invited to the U.S. to help combat the virus, visitors from organizations like NATO and the United Nations, and those “whose entry would be in the national interest, as determined by the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or their designees,” according to the White House announcement.
When does the ban start?
The ban goes into effect on Friday at 11:59 p.m. ET. It does not apply to anyone aboard a flight bound for the U.S. that departed before that time.
For now, the restrictions are set to last for 30 days, but all of this is subject to change as the pandemic develops.
How are Americans affected?
U.S. citizens traveling in Europe do not need to race to board a flight home before midnight. They are free to return to the U.S. while the ban is in effect.
“U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents will be permitted to return from the European Schengen area,” according to the State Department website. “The Department of Homeland Security will be issuing instructions requiring U.S. passengers that have been in the Schengen area to travel through select airports where the U.S. Government has implemented enhanced screening procedures.”
Vice President Mike Pence said on Thursday that there are 13 such airports but did not list them. Currently, we know of 11 airports that were set up to screen travelers from China under a previously announced ban.
John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), New York
Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD), Illinois
San Francisco International Airport (SFO), California
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA), Washington
Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL), Hawaii
Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), California
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), Georgia
Washington-Dulles International Airport (IAD), Virginia
Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR), New Jersey
Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), Texas
Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW), Michigan
Pence also noted that Americans returning to the U.S. from the European Union would be asked to self-quarantine for 14 days. The same presumably applies to the non-citizens exempted from the ban.
What about airlines?
The ban affects more than 7,300 flights (over 2 million seats) that were scheduled to fly from those 26 nations to the U.S. during the 30-day period, according to the travel analytics firm Cirium.
Needless to say, the ban has dealt an additional blow to the already struggling airline industry, particularly trans-Atlantic carriers. Norwegian Air announced plans to cancel about 4,000 flights and temporarily lay off about 50% of employees.
Delta will suspend four routes between the U.S. and Paris and three between the U.S. and Amsterdam once the ban goes into effect. American Airlines will do the same for flights to and from Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Munich and Zürich and then eventually Paris, Madrid and Barcelona. United intends to cut down on European flights after March 19.
With this in mind, Americans traveling abroad may want to pay attention to flight availability if they intend to return home during this time.
American, Delta and United all said they would be capping fares on flights from Europe to the U.S. “The safety and health of our customers and employees is always our highest priority,” Delta said in a statement, noting that the carrier would “continue to quickly make adjustments to service, as needed, in response to government travel directives.”
How effective could this ban be?
Public health experts have criticized Trump’s decision to focus his coronavirus response on foreign travel bans when the illness is already spreading within communities in the U.S.
“The U.S. problem is not anymore about trying to reduce virus importation. It’s about how on earth are you going to manage the spread within your population,” Paul Hunter, a professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, told Time.
Indeed, all the travel bans in the world can’t stop the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S. if people here aren’t able to be tested for the virus. Test kit shortages remain the biggest barrier to tracking and slowing the spread of the disease.
“CORONAVIRUS IS ALREADY HERE,” Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) tweeted after Trump announced his European ban. “What we need are test kits.”