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White House ban on European travel far from universal

Exceptions include American citizens, legal permanent residents and their families

President Donald Trump makes remarks to the media in the Capitol after attending the Senate Republican Policy luncheon on Tuesday.
President Donald Trump makes remarks to the media in the Capitol after attending the Senate Republican Policy luncheon on Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

President Donald Trump and members of his administration sought to walk back elements of the sweeping 30-day European travel ban he announced Wednesday night, making it clear that the ban was more of a restriction mirroring earlier restrictions placed on China and Iran.

Trump’s address to the nation seemed clear: “We will be suspending all travel from Europe to the United States for the next 30 days,” he said. Members of his Cabinet made it clear within hours of his comments to the nation that the ban was far from absolute.

“This does not apply to American citizens or legal permanent residents or their families,” tweeted acting deputy secretary for Homeland Security Ken Cuccinelli. It also does not include the United Kingdom, where Health Minister Nadine Dorries tested positive for the virus Wednesday.

Acting DHS Secretary Chad F. Wolf further clarified: The “ban” would apply to most foreign nationals who have been in specific European countries during the 14 days prior to their scheduled arrival to the United States. 

[Coronavirus on board? Senators raise air travel concerns]

The countries included 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. 

But the ban, DHS wrote, does not apply to legal permanent residents, immediate family members of U.S. citizens, and other individuals who are identified in the proclamation. 

Those that the ban did not apply to would be routed through the 11 airports with enhanced health screening procedures.

“While these new travel restrictions will be disruptive to some travelers, this decisive action is needed to protect the American public from further exposure to the potentially deadly coronavirus,” Wolf said.

State Department

Later Wednesday night, the State Department issued a Global Level 3 Health Advisory urging Americans to reconsider any travel abroad because they may find themselves stranded.

“Even countries, jurisdictions or areas where cases have not been reported may restrict travel without notice,” the advisory said.

Trump’s announcement follows and ultimately closely mirrors travel restrictions announced in January and February against individuals who had been in China and Iran. Those restrictions barred foreign nationals who had visited those nations in the past 14 days from entering the United States. 

American citizens and lawful permanent residents or their families who had been in those countries during the past 14 days could enter the U.S. through the 11 screening airports and, depending on their health and travel history, restricted in their movements for 14 days from the time they left those countries. 

Those restrictions ultimately became de facto bans as airlines including United and American canceled flights to and from China and Hong Kong. 

‘Workforce and employers’

U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow, responding to Trump’s Wednesday announcement, called for the government to “consider equally aggressive steps to protect America’s workforce and employers.”

“Temporarily shutting off travel from Europe is going to exacerbate the already-heavy impact of coronavirus on the travel industry and the 15.7 million Americans whose jobs depend on travel,” he said. 

Dow’s job looked to become even trickier Thursday, when officials reported that a passenger traveling from New York City’s John F. Kennedy to Palm Beach International Airport on Wednesday had tested positive for the coronavirus. Passengers were forced to remain on the plane for nearly two hours before departing just before 11 p.m.

Nicholas E. Calio, president of airline trade group Airlines for America, who joined Dow at an event hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce last week urging travelers not to cancel their plans, acknowledged the decision “will hit U.S. airlines, their employees, travelers and the shipping public extremely hard.”

“However, we respect the need to take this unprecedented action and appreciate the Administration’s commitment to facilitate travel and trade,” he said.

Airlines, cruise lines and Amtrak have been devastated by the outbreak, with Amtrak announcing Wednesday that cancelations are up more than 300 percent. In a memo to employees, Stephen Gardner, senior executive vice president and chief operating and commercial officer at Amtrak, said the company “will likely suffer the loss of several hundred million dollars in revenue during this fiscal year.”

Airlines have slashed flights, and United Airlines this week said it was preparing for a worst-case scenario of a 70 percent drop in revenue in April and May.

Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin, testifying before Congress on Wednesday, said the administration was eyeing loan guarantees similar to what was offered after 9/11. “I want to be clear this is not a bailout,” he said. “

Unconvinced

But Rep. Peter A. DeFazio, D-Ore., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, seemed cool to the idea late Wednesday.

“I don’t know that they are at the point of jeopardy at this point in time,” he said of impacted industries such as airlines. “They all had record profitable years recently and as far as I know they have substantial cash reserves.”

Trump himself sought to clarify comments he’d made Wednesday indicating the travel ban could impact cargo.

He had said that “prohibitions will not only apply to the tremendous amount of trade and cargo but various other things as we get approval,” he reversed himself in a tweet later Wednesday night, saying, “…very important for all countries & businesses to now that trade will in no way be affected by the 30-day restriction on travel from Europe. The restriction stops people not goods.”

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