President Donald Trump unexpectedly announced a drastic ban on foreigners traveling to the United States from Europe in an effort to curb the deadly coronavirus from spreading, but his vague plan seemed to only heighten fears.
Americans in Europe rushed to airports late on Wednesday and early on Thursday morning in a desperate bid to get home, before confusion over who would be affected by the ban was cleared up.
While U.S. citizens and lawful residents will be allowed to return home, most foreigners from the 26 banned countries will be denied entry beginning on Friday.
Here, DailyMail.com details what we know – and more crucially what we don’t know.
WHO IS COVERED BY THE BAN?
Foreigners who are traveling directly from any of the 26 countries on Trump’s European ban list will not be admitted into the United States.
Foreigner means anyone coming from outside the U.S. and is not a U.S. citizen or doesn’t have a valid green card.
The countries include EU members France, Italy, Germany, Greece, Austria, Belgium, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland. See right for the full list.
It is unclear if passengers flying from a non-European destination will be asked when they were last in Europe.
Foreigners who are in the U.S. on a work visa or a tourist visa are likely going to barred from entering the U.S. if they visit a European country and try to re-enter the country.
WHO IS NOT COVERED BY THE BAN?
The restrictions don’t apply to U.S. citizens, legal U.S. permanent residents, meaning those with green cards, immediate family members of U.S. citizens or others ‘identified in the proclamation’ that was signed by Trump on Wednesday night.
It also doesn’t apply to foreigners with diplomatic, NATO, military or government visas. And for U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents who have a foreign child or are adopting a foreign child, according to NAFSA.
Americans who are currently in Europe will be allowed back in — though they will be subject to an ‘enhanced’ health screening and asked to self-quarantine for 14 days.
Trump did not mention any restrictions on Americans traveling to Europe and the ban will last for 30 days.
WHAT ABOUT FOREIGNERS COMING FROM OTHER COUNTRIES? WILL THEY BE ASKED IF THEY WENT TO BANNED DESTINATIONS?
It is unclear how airports will be screening for foreigners who have visited an European country and later traveled to another country that isn’t on the ban list.
For example, London’s Heathrow airport is a major travel hub for Europe and is exempt from the ban, meaning Europeans could possibly travel to London to fly out to the U.S.
Heathrow’s most popular destination is JFK in New York City.
Heathrow has a daily average total of 219,458 passengers, with 49.5 percent of those passengers classified as departures.
Around 94 percent of passengers who travel out of Heathrow are coming or going to international destinations.
Several international airlines also have designated layovers in cities worldwide, meaning passengers might be able to travel to Asia or other North American countries and bypass the ban if screening officials aren’t being thorough.
WHAT HAPPENS TO AMERICANS WHEN THEY TRAVEL FROM EUROPE?
Vice President Mike Pence said on Thursday that Americans returning from Europe ‘will be screened as they return through 13 separate airports.’
Currently, there are 11 airports that are designated to receive passengers who recently visited China or Iran, which had previous travel restrictions placed on them.
The airports in New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, Dallas, Hawaii and Detroit could possibly be utilized to accept travelers from the European countries.
It was not mentioned if screening included testing for every passenger.
It is unclear how passengers are expected to self-quarantine when they still need to travel home from the airport, particularly if the airport they are routed through is not close to their final destination.
Trump on Thursday encouraged travelers to self-isolate after returning from Europe.
HOW EXACTLY ARE PEOPLE SCREENED FOR CORONAVIRUS?
In addition to the passenger being asked if they have visited any of the banned European countries, officials look for symptoms of the virus.
The most common symptoms include fever, dry cough, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing and fatigue.
To confirm if a passenger has coronavirus, a sample is collected for a diagnostic test for SARS-CoV-2, which is the strain of virus that leads to the respiratory disease.
Medical officials often take a sample by putting a swab up the nose. A swab can also be taken through the mouth if the person has a wet cough.
The samples are sent off to be tested by various health departments and clinical diagnostic laboratories. Results usually come back within 2-7 days.
In Cleveland, a clinic said a new in-house coronavirus test it developed would deliver results within eight hours.
WHO WILL ENFORCE THE BAN?
It is unclear who will be responsible for enforcing the ban.
International airlines could be tasked with denying boarding for European passport holders at the gate or at check-in.
Another option could see European passengers being turned away at the U.S. border if they somehow made it on a U.S-bound flight.
Additionally, it is unclear if the government will use federal resources to send additional officials to check passports and enforce the ban at airports.
CAN AIRPORTS EVEN TEST FOR CORONAVIRUS?
One of the main concerns over the spread of the virus has been over a shortage of testing kits available, as Vice President Mike Pence said passengers will be tested at one of the 13 airports upon arrival.
Airports and local clinics have repeatedly said they did not have supplies to test people who are concerned they have the virus.
It has been reported that fewer than 10,000 people have been tested in the U.S. compared to 20,000 per day in South Korea.
The CDC revealed on Tuesday that only 8,554 Americans had been tested for coronavirus, with the agency’s director saying state and local health labs are understaffed and ill-equipped to keep up with the crisis.
Health officials and Democrats have slammed the limited supply of tests, while some government officials claimed there was a surplus of testing kits, citing figures of 1.1 million tests at labs across the country and a million more on the way.
However during the coronavirus task force briefing, United States Secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, confessed that Americans will only be able to find out whether they have contracted COVID-19 if a doctor gives the go-ahead.
Despite a claimed 4 million more tests due to be delivered by the end of the week, Azar said: ‘There’s a false premise. Just because I as a person say I’d like to be tested for coronavirus, I can walk into a Minute Clinic and say ”give me my test please” – that’s not how diagnostic testing works in the United States or frankly anywhere else.’
Why wasn’t the United Kingdom included in the ban?
Despite the UK having 373 cases and Ireland having 43 cases, in addition to the UK imposing far fewer restrictions in response to the virus than many EU countries, Trump’s travel ban excluded the two. Trump has properties in both nations.
Trump said on Thursday: ‘One of the reasons UK basically has been (excluded from the restrictions is) it’s got the border.
‘It’s got very strong borders and they’re doing a very good job.’
The exemption will raise questions about the coherence of his policy.
Trump had accused Europe of not acting quickly enough to address the ‘foreign virus’ and claimed that U.S. clusters were ‘seeded’ by European travelers.
But the UK has no screening of people coming from France – to which it is connected directly by the Channel Tunnel – or other European countries, as Nancy Pelosi quickly pointed out.
On Thursday, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, one of America’s top scientists, explained the ban on European countries.
He said: ‘When we were looking at the pure public health aspect of it we found that 70 percent of the new infections in the world were coming from Europe, that cluster of countries, and of the 35 states – 30 out of 35 of them who were more recently getting infections were getting them from them – that was predominantly from Italy and from France and from Germany.’
How many people does this affect?
Europe is the most popular international destination for Americans and according to flight tracker FlightAware, there are around 400 flights across the Atlantic from Europe to the United States each day, converting to around 72 million passengers a year.
Although Americans aren’t outright barred from traveling to Europe, many have already cancelled bookings to European cities.
The time of year the ban falls under is when several grade schools and universities have spring break.
What do health officials say about the Europe ban?
Some evidence has suggested travel restrictions – such as the ones imposed in China early on in the pandemic – can contain the virus by stopping cases being imported to the rest of the world.
Margaret Harris, of the World Health Organisation, admitted that travel bans are useful in the early stages of an outbreak but said they are of little use when the disease starts spreading freely within communities – as it has done in the U.S.
Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious disease specialist at the University of East Anglia, said: ‘It is uncertain what the US intends to achieve with the recently announced travel ban to the Schengen area of Europe.
Hunter continued: ‘Many of us have been pointing out since the COVID-19 epidemic began that travel bans have a poor record on preventing the spread of epidemic diseases. At best travel bans only delay the spread of an epidemic by a short while.
‘Introducing an international travel ban at a time when the US is now one of the countries with the most rapidly accelerating internal transmission rates will do little if anything to reduce the burden of infection within the US.’
What does this mean for the tourism and airline industry?
The global travel industry is already reeling from declining bookings and canceled reservations as people try to avoid contracting and spreading coronavirus.
With Europe being the most popular travel destination for Americans, the move will hit tourist reliant-heavy countries hard.
Airlines scrambled to adjust to the new restrictions, with many telling customers they were still assessing options and asking for patience from those trying to contact them.
Even before Trump’s announcement, the International Airline Travelers Association was forecasting a 24 percent fall in Europe’s passenger traffic this year and $37 billion in lost potential ticket sales.
Italy, which is all but closed off as authorities try to control the spread of the virus there, has been particularly hard hit.
An industry trade group warned that airlines worldwide could lose up to $113 billion in revenue from the virus — several times the damage caused by the 2001 terror attacks in the U.S. Since mid-February, shares of American Airlines have dropped by nearly half, United Airlines by more than one-third, and Delta Air Lines more than one-fourth.