- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 24, 2020

President Trump got Polish ally Andrzej Duda to pay a house call Wednesday, but Europe is starting to treat the U.S. as a pariah because it is struggling to contain the coronavirus.

The European Union is likely to extend a ban on American visitors beyond July 1, putting the U.S. on par with Russia and Brazil while it opens its doors to countries within the bloc and other parts of the world.

Talk of an extended ban comes weeks after German Chancellor Angela Merkel declined a Washington visit for the Group of Seven summit, citing the virus.

Instead, Mr. Duda, the president of Poland, seized his chance to become the first head of state to visit the White House since the height of the pandemic. In meetings Wednesday, he and Mr. Trump discussed plans to reopen their economies.

“The United States and Poland were proud to help one another through the COVID-19 pandemic, and we pledge to continue our close cooperation as we work to find therapeutics and vaccines,” the leaders said in a joint statement.

Mr. Duda had a big incentive to grab the White House spotlight — his visit comes days before he faces election back home.

But in Brussels, the EU faces a vote on what to do about the U.S., which on Wednesday reported its third-highest count of daily cases since the pandemic took off in early March.

The European Commission decided on June 11 that travel restrictions should be lifted first on countries whose epidemiological situation is similar to the EU average.

There a mismatch. The EU is seeing 16 infections per 100,000 people over the past 14 days, while the U.S. is seeing 107, Brazil is at 190 and Russia is at 80, according to a New York Times database.

Also, the U.S. has recorded the highest number of officially acknowledged coronavirus deaths in the world by far — more than 121,000, roughly a quarter of the global total.

Spanish authorities on Wednesday said a couple from the U.S. tested positive for the virus on the island of Minorca, underscoring the threat of new infections from across the Atlantic.

“As the U.S. is increasingly recognized as an epicenter for the pandemic, it is not surprising that other countries will recognize this fact and be wary about travelers originating from the U.S.,” said Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “This is another reason why, for things to get back to some semblance of normal, it is crucial for the U.S. to get a handle on hot spots that have occurred in the U.S. and ensure that they have adequate contact tracing to extinguish chains of transmission.”

The EU’s draft list on banned nations hasn’t been finalized — a decision is expected next week. Experts say it is not clear whether Brussels’ deliberations are based strictly on science or political posturing, since the U.S. maintains its ban on travelers from Europe.

“But clearly our nation has been unable or unwilling to get its arms around COVID19 and now we’re yet again seeing a sharp acceleration in cases. It’s terrible down here in Texas,” said Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine.

Texas set a single-day high of more than 5,000 cases, while Miami mandated the use of face masks in public as cases surge in Florida.

Mr. Trump has linked problems in the Sun Belt to an uptick in testing, though experts point to a worrying increase in hospitalizations and the percentage of those testing positive.

About 15 million Americans travel to Europe per year, so restrictions have far-reaching consequences on the economy.

Mr. Trump imposed a travel ban on March 11 on foreign nationals from more than two dozen countries known as the Schengen Area. About 10 million Europeans travel to the U.S. per year.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said unwinding the bans must be a two-way street.

He said the administration doesn’t want to reopen in a way that “jeopardizes the United States from people traveling here, and we certainly don’t want to cause problems anyplace else.”

“We’ve been working with countries all across the world, including our friends in Europe and the EU proper to determine how it is we can best safely reopen international travel,” Mr. Pompeo said. “It’s important for the United States to get Europeans the capacity to travel back to the United States. It’s very important for the Europeans to fully reconnect with the American economy as well. I think leaders all across those two places understand the importance of this. We’ve been working with them for quite some time on this.”

Underscoring the stakes, the International Monetary Fund on Wednesday said the economic fallout from the pandemic will be worse than initially thought. It expects global economic output for 2020 to shrink by nearly 5%, up from the 3% contraction forecast in April.

It also predicted a slower-than-anticipated recovery in 2021.

“We are definitely not out of the woods,” IMF chief economist Gita Gopinath said at a news conference. “We have not escaped the great lockdown.”

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