Presidents Trump’s last ditch attempt to halt travel from Europe in March ended up causing chaos and confusion and ultimately led to a surge in coronavirus-exposed and possibly virus-carrying passengers rushing back to the U.S. before the travel ban even began.
The impending ban saw Americans abroad rushing back to the homeland, likely unawares they they were bringing the highly contagious virus back with them to cities and suburbs across the country.
‘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,’ Trump said in an Oval Office address on March 11.
President Trump announced a ban on European flights to the U.S. on March 11. In the days following, 15,000 more Americans than usual rushed to get home
The returning of citizens from overseas almost certainly resulted in a higher viral spike than might have otherwise have been the case according to a report in The Washington Post.
Epidemiologists have already managed to establish that the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. was driven mainly by viral strains from Europe rather than China.
As Europe became the center of the pandemic, more than 1.8 million travelers flooded back into the country in February alone.
Infections were already on the rise in cities such as New York long before the White House finally took action, according to studies that have mapped the spread of the disease.
Direct travel to the U.S. from Europe spiked after Trump announced the travel ban in March
After President Trump’s announcement, the crush of travelers coming back into the country all at once only served to add to amount of people likely carrying the virus.
‘We closed the front door with the China travel ban, which was right, even in retrospect it was right, but we left the back door wide open because the virus had left China by the time we did the China travel ban,’ New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo said during an April press conference.
Between the beginning of January to when the U.S. closed its borders to Europe in March, approximately 13,000 flights from Europe landed in New York and New Jersey airports carrying more than 2.2 million people, Cuomo said.
Trump, meanwhile, had long touted his decision in January to restrict travel from China as evidence that he acted decisively to contain the coronavirus.
He has claimed that doing so saved more than a million lives, however it appears that the administration’s response to the threat posed from Europe was far more consequential to more than 97,000 people who have died and the 1.6 million now infected in the United States, the Post stated.
Arriving passengers from Europe on March 13 faced lines lasting up to six hours as travelers were forced to enter through 13 designated ‘funnel’ airports. This was the scene arriving at Chicago O’Hare airport
The report notes the travel ban was triggered by many of the same problems, such as missing or ignoring early warnings, chaotic coordination and undermining the administration’s covid-related plans.
A former senior advisor to the president tweeted her disdain on Saturday evening as to the report’s findings.
‘So basically Trump made it worse by screwing up what should have been a simple announcement, creating a panic and causing thousands of people to immediately fly here who otherwise wouldn’t have. Oh, from virus-ravaged Europe. Awesome!’ AJ Delgado tweeted.
Greg Miller, National Security Correspondent for The Washington Post, who wrote the report declared Trump’s announcement of a travel ban to be ‘botched’.
The decision to implement the travel ban came while the country was still attempting to resist other measures aimed at containing the outbreak that would later prove critical.
A former senior advisor to the president tweeted her disdain on Saturday evening as the report’s findings
Greg Miller, National Security Correspondent for The Washington Post, declared Trump’s announcement of a travel ban to be ‘botched’
Schools continued to remain open, no states had issued stay-at-home orders and many health officials were simply promoting the use of hand-washing as an adequate means to prevent infection.
The Post believes the lack of urgency was caused by a failure to understand the true nature of the threat posted by the virus.
There were just 3,714 confirmed cases in the United States on March 13, on the day the travel restrictions were implemented with 176 deaths recorded. However, it is now known that such numbers were hugely inaccurate and suppressed by the scarcity of tests.
Passengers were pictured waiting in line for up to six hours at Chicago O’Hare. At the time, they were not being tested for coronavirus or even having their temperatures taken
Days later, Trump said that he grasped the full magnitude of the virus soon after it spread from Wuhan, China.
On March 17th he said, ‘I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.’
But throughout much of February, Trump continued to downplay its severity predicting the virus would recede and eventually disappear.
‘It will go away,’ he proclaimed on March 10th, just one day before his address from the Oval Office. ‘Just stay calm. It will go away.’
Once the European travel ban had been announced, the numbers of passengers coming across the Atlantic from countries affected by the restriction skyrocketed 46 percent in a single day.
Customs and Border Protection say around 31,000 people arrived on the day Trump made his address. The following day, some 45,500 travelers came flooding back.
In March, Trump was quick to tweeted that his ‘strong’ border policy helped stave off the crisis
The action by the Trump administration appears to have been too little, too late.
By mid-February, European strains of the virus were already established in New York and quickly multiplying in the crowded streets and subways of the city before they spread out to the rest of the country, according to findings released by Trevor Bedford, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington.
The virus was then allowed to continue crossing the Atlantic back and forth for several more weeks until the travel ban was implemented.
In February 1.8 million air travelers from Europe came into the United States without so much as a temperature check.