The reason that Donald Trump, Mike Pence, and everyone else in the White House keep talking about Trump’s move to ban travel from China is because it was effectively the only thing that Donald Trump did in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the United States. However, the travel restrictions that Trump put into place on Feb. 2 were not just too late to halt a virus that was already spreading inside the United States, they were also laughably lax. Under Trump’s “ban,” any U. S. citizen or relatives of a U. S. citizen fly directly from the most affected areas of China straight into the United States. Even noncitizens who came from China by way of stops in other countries reported no problem with their travel. Studies published back in March and April showed that the actions would have “only a modest effect” even if they were 90% successful in blocking travel, and that literally every other step—from testing, to case tracing, to telling people to wash their hands—was more effective.
Still, Trump loves to talk about travel bans. Not because they’re effective in blocking the spread of disease, and not because it was the only thing he could be bothered to do for months. Travel bans fit right in with Trump’s idea that immigration should be a matter of racial purity and—like everything else—an instrument of personal revenge. Which is why Trump’s later, and even less effective, travel restrictions on Europe included nations that had the highest infection rates while excluding those Trump found to have unacceptable policies, such as being kind to refugees and not bowing to Russia. All of which makes it perfectly fitting that Europe is now turning the tables on Trump. Only they’re being much more serious about it.
In some cases, such a geographically isolated locations where the points of entry can be strictly controlled—see New Zealand and Iceland—travel bans can be an effective part of an overall plan to isolate cases and contain spread. However, travel bans are not an effective means of reducing the rate of transmission or improving the outcome of infections. There’s little doubt that the massive level of infections in New York were generated by the high rate of travel between that region and Europe, but those infections happened before either end of that pipeline understood that COVID-19 was circulating within the general population. Cutting down on travel after a disease is already present has minimal effect on overall outcomes.
Still, when nations are highly engaged in systematic case tracing and quarantine of confirmed cases, having people traipsing around the landscape making hundreds of contacts in dozens of locations is less than productive. That’s particularly true for nations where tourists zipping around the countryside, congregating at museums, and sampling the local cuisine is a major part of the economy. It’s understandable that those nations might want to nix visitors from countries where COVID-19 is flaring higher than anywhere else on the planet: Namely Russia, Brazil, and everyone’s No. 1 source of virus threat, the United States.
With that in mind, the European Union had previously proposed a series of complex measures that would regulate reopening across the continent and create unified standards for what could reopen, what limits would be set, and what provisions would be made to protect public safety. Republicans in the United States may have rejected the idea of having any national plan for handling COVID-19, and many Republican governors may have washed their hands of doing anything at the state level, but in Europe leaders are coming across national borders to present a unified response.
And, as The New York Times reports, a cornerstone of that plan is blocking travelers from the United States. Instead, tourists will be accepted from countries like Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. Nations that have handled the COVID-19 response well and properly protected both their citizens’ health and their economy will also be rewarded with freedom to travel and with unmatched deals to visit and enjoy tourist-hungry locations. For citizens of these nations, it will be an amazing opportunity to drop in on cities like Rome, Paris, and Venice without the maddening crowds, and with hotels, airlines, and tour companies all elbowing to get their business whatever it takes.
For the United States—the world’s stand-out in handling this pandemic in the worst way possible—the response will be a locked door. But don’t worry. Republicans are sure to launch a boycott and explain how they never wanted to go to Europe anyway.
Does anyone know where the Freedom Fries signs are stored?