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Trump?s coronavirus travel restrictions on Europe have many exceptions, and arrivals won?t be tested

The Trump administration has been widely criticized for failing to acquire and distribute testing kits, as other nations including South Korea have done.

Acting homeland security secretary Chad Wolf said in a statement late Wednesday that the restrictions on 26 European nations would be similar to those already in place for foreign travelers who had been to China and Iran, where coronavirus outbreaks have been severe. Wolf said he would issue more-detailed guidelines in the next 48 hours explaining how the measures will alter travel during the next 30 days, as authorities try to control the spread of the virus.

While Trump’s restrictions on European travelers have little precedent in the modern era, they are not as sweeping as a suspension of “all travel,” as the president announced in his address to the nation from the Oval Office on Wednesday night.

“In January and February, the administration issued similar travel restrictions on individuals who had been in China and Iran,” Wolf said. “That action proved to be effective in slowing the spread of the virus to the U.S., while public health officials prepared.”

The proclamation will ban tourists and other short-term visitors, as well as immigrant visa holders. But it exempts a broad range of other travelers: the parents or legal guardians of U.S. citizens and green-card holders under age 21, children in the process of being adopted, the family members of U.S. service members and “any alien whose entry would not pose a significant risk of introducing, transmitting, or spreading the virus, as determined by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, through the CDC Director or his designee,” among others. CDC refers to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The president made little mention of those exceptions in his address Wednesday evening, and there were reports early Thursday of panicked Americans arriving at European airports fearing they would not be able to return home.

“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 his address. “There will be exemptions for Americans who have undergone appropriate screenings, and these prohibitions will not only apply to the tremendous amount of trade and cargo but various other things as we get approval. Anything coming from Europe to the United States is what we are discussing. These restrictions will also not apply to the United Kingdom,” Trump said.

White House officials later clarified that commercial goods will be exempted, as well.

Britain was exempted because of its long-standing ties to the United States, according to the senior official, and because its health-care system is perceived to be more effective.

Meanwhile, European officials Thursday strongly condemned Trump’s decision to severely restrict travel from their countries, saying they were blindsided by the sudden move that many saw as politically motivated.

In a short statement — rare in its directness — the European Union expressed only exasperation.

“The Coronavirus is a global crisis, not limited to any continent and it requires cooperation rather than unilateral action,” the statement read, co-signed by European 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.”

Across the 26 nations hit by the ban, there were 21,080 active cases of coronavirus as of Thursday morning, and 952 deaths, according to a database maintained by Johns Hopkins University. Italy was a particular locus of the pandemic, with more than half of the active cases — 10,590 — and the vast majority of deaths, 827.

Britain had 430 active cases and eight deaths, while Ireland had 42 active cases and one death. Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar planned to meet Trump on Thursday in Washington as part of St. Patrick’s Day events.

Some in Europe wondered if Britain and Ireland were exempted because they contain 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.

This is a developing story.

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