- Video report by ITV News Washington Correspondent Robert Moore
This was the biggest moment of his Presidency. A moment to rally American and world opinion, to create a sense of clarity, unity, and national purpose.
Instead, overnight we are left with a breathtaking degree of confusion. Embassies and airlines have been completely blindsided. Allies taken aback. Travellers and tourists dumbfounded.
Donald Trump announced in a 9pm address to the nation from the Oval Office an extraordinary measure: The severing of all flights from Europe to the US, and implied that goods and cargo would also be banned. The one exemption he referenced was the UK.
In an executive proclamation published at the same time the White House justified it by saying that the coronavirus threatened America with “cascading public health, economic, national security, and societal consequences.” The flight ban begins at 11.59pm on Friday and will last thirty days. Aircraft in the air at that time will be allowed to land at US airports.
But quickly there had to be multiple corrections and clarifications about Trump’s announcement.
We now know that it doesn’t involve US citizens, but only non-Americans who have been in a country that is part of the Schengen area of the EU. So it doesn’t appear to apply to Ireland or the UK.
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In addition, cargo WILL be allowed to cross the Atlantic. At least, that appears to be the case.
But let’s be clear: there is a massive amount of confusion. Why was the UK exempted? Why is Europe being so specifically targeted? Is there any public health logic to any of this?
Passengers heading to the US, European tourists already here, transatlantic businesses, students, the list goes on...this is disruption on a scale we haven’t seen for decades. Even 9/11 produced leadership - and hence some clarity - amid the tragedy.
In his speech, the president expressed strikingly little empathy. No message of solidarity with the Italian people; no appreciation for heroic doctors on the front line; no sense that this is a global pandemic and that we are all in this together.
Instead the President spoke of a “foreign virus” - whatever that means - and he repeatedly stressed China as the pandemic’s origins.
The EU - underlining how this is becoming a deepening diplomatic rift as well as a public health emergency - made its disapproval of Trump’s action clear:
In a statement, the EU Commission said: "The coronavirus is a global crisis, not limited to any continent and it requires cooperation rather than unilateral action.
"The European Union disapproves of the fact that the US decision to impose a travel ban was taken unilaterally and without consultation.
"The European Union is taking strong action to limit the spread of the virus."
Donald Trump is now being tested by a crisis that exposes many of his greatest weaknesses, including a penchant for conspiracy theories and a deep scepticism in science and expertise.
America and the world desperately needed a leader.
He was missing in action last night.