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‘This virus is everywhere.’ Experts deride Europe travel ban as useless

A view of the Terminal 1 section is seen at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Thursday. President Trump announced a 30-day ban on travel from mainland Europe over the coronavirus pandemic that has sparked unprecedented lockdowns, widespread panic and another financial market meltdown Thursday.The announcement came as China, where the outbreak that first emerged in December, showed a dramatic drop in new cases and claimed "the peak" of the epidemic had passed.KENA BETANCUR/AFP via Getty Images

Public health experts on Wednesday condemned President Trump’s ban on travel from certain European countries, reacting with bafflement and derision to a measure they said would do nothing to control a pandemic that has already reached US shores.

“It’s a distraction. It is useless. And it will waste our energies on things that are not going to make Americans safer,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute. “Instead of focusing on the growing outbreak in the US, the president is trying to distract us by looking for others to blame.”

Trump on Wednesday night announced that the United States would block most visitors from continental Europe for 30 days starting Friday.


Jha and others said the top priorities should be identifying, treating, and isolating Americans sick with Covid-19; banning large gatherings to control the virus’s spread; and preparing a health care system at risk of being overwhelmed within weeks.

And these critics point to the plummeting stock market as evidence that they’re not alone in finding the president’s speech inadequate.

“I don’t understand why we’re putting our efforts on trying to keep cases out of the country when we have a raging epidemic in our country,” said Jennifer Nuzzo, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “Most of the cases we have found to date are not linked to any kind of travel. This virus is everywhere.”

No travel ban can stop a virus like the one that causes Covid-19, because it “spreads too silently and too quickly,” Nuzzo said. “I think all we’re going to accomplish at this point is to exacerbate the economic toll.”

Additionally, measures such as travel bans have a “psychological cost,” Nuzzo said, by suggesting that the virus is “out there” and can be prevented from coming here. “We continue to send the psychological message that the virus is not here among us.”


As a result, she said, someone with symptoms may not take seriously the advice to stay home and end up spreading the virus further.

Gregg Gonsalves, a professor of epidemiology and law at Yale, said the president’s plan isn't even a travel ban, because Americans are exempt from it. And, with the United Kingdom also exempt, anyone can take a train to London to fly out.

“There’s no internal logic to it,” Gonsalves said. “It’s clear they’re doing the classic ‘blame the other’ in the midst of an epidemic. ... It’s creating chaos. It was done in bad faith.”

Jha said he wished the president had been honest about the difficult time ahead and called on Americans to work together to defeat a virus already spreading among us.

“A halfway decent president would tap the resources and ingenuity of the American people,” Jha said. “Instead our president wants to build a wall and ban flights from Paris. It’s a shocking level of ineptitude."

Felice J. Freyer can be reached at Follow her @felicejfreyer.