- President Donald Trump described the novel coronavirus as a “foreign virus” during his Oval Office address Wednesday night, in which he announced a travel ban affecting 26 European countries.
- His words echo those of his top allies in Congress and the media who have in recent days blamed China for the outbreak.
- On Tuesday, Trump also tweeted that a border wall between the US and Mexico was needed “more than ever” to stop the spread of the virus – a claim the CDC’s director has rebutted.
- Trump has long sought to pin the blame for America’s problems on migrants and other countries.
- The World Health Organisation has warned people not to link the outbreak to a specific nationality or region. Top Democrats also said attempts to link the disease to a specific nationality were racist.
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President Donald Trump on Wednesday night referred to the novel coronavirus as a “foreign virus” and imposed a travel ban on 26 countries, implicitly linking the US response to the pandemic to his hardline anti-migrant policies.
He made the comments in an Oval Office address in which he announced that foreign nationals would be barred from travelling to the US from 26 European countries for 30 days starting Friday.
“This is the most aggressive and comprehensive effort to confront a foreign virus in modern history,” the president said in the televised address.
He added that the illness “started in China and is now spreading throughout the world.”
“I am confident that by counting and continuing to take these tough measures, we will significantly reduce the threat to our citizens and we will ultimately and expeditiously defeat this virus.”
U.S. President Donald Trump announces travel from Europe will be suspended for 30 days to prevent the spread of coronavirus (which he called earlier a “foreign virus”) #OOTT #OilPriceWar pic.twitter.com/OITqEdkA0r
— Javier Blas (@JavierBlas) March 12, 2020
The president and his top allies in Congress and the media had in recent weeks sought to blame the illness COVID-19 on other countries and argued that Trump’s “America First” isolationist policies were vital for stopping its spread.
The focus for many of the attacks has been China, where the virus first emerged late last year.
On Tuesday, the president shared a tweet by the conservative youth activist Charlie Kirk, who branded the disease the “China virus” and called for the construction of Trump’s US-Mexico border wall to be hastened to halt its spread.
“Going up fast. We need the Wall more than ever!” the president added, commenting approvingly on the message.
At a February 28 campaign rally in North Carolina, the president also claimed that “the Democrat policy of open borders is a direct threat to the health and well-being of all Americans,” adding: “Now, you see it with the coronavirus.”
Business Insider has not found evidence of a person travelling across the US-Mexico border transmitting the disease in the US.
Trump’s claims were also directly rebutted by Robert Redfield, the director of the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, who told lawmakers Tuesday he had not seen any evidence that physical barriers were effective in stopping the outbreak.
On Monday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy was criticised by Democrats after describing the disease as “Chinese coronavirus” in a tweet.
Sean Hannity, the Fox News host who serves as an informal adviser to the president, told viewers on Wednesday: “China … they have got to be held responsible for the spread of this deadly disease. Their dishonesty, their government’s secrecy, even outright lies.”
It followed days of coverage on the network, where Fox News hosts including Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham also sought to blame China for the spread of the illness.
The World Health Organisation has urged politicians, public officials, and media organisations not to foment xenophobia by linking the illness to a specific region or ethnicity. Redfield agreed.
Trump on Wednesday shifted the target to Europe, blaming the European Union specifically for the US’s problems combatting the spread of the coronavirus.
“The EU failed,” Trump said. “Smart action today will prevent the spread of the virus tomorrow … We are at a critical time in the fight against the virus.”
He later claimed that Europeans visiting the US had “seeded” clusters of coronavirus infection in the US.
Many of the 1,200 confirmed cases in the US, however, are linked to Americans who returned from abroad, and there is established “community spread,” in which the virus is transmitted within US borders, The Washington Post noted.
Americans are still allowed to travel to and from Europe.
China and the EU have long been the focus of attacks by Trump and his allies, who have accused the bloc of seeking to economically exploit the US.
A wall won’t stop a virus.
Racism won’t stop a virus.
Do your job. https://t.co/Mj4Zx0ccPS
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) March 10, 2020
Top Democrats have hit back at Trump’s attempts to characterise the virus as a foreign threat.
In response to Trump’s calling for the construction of a border wall, the 2020 Democratic presidential frontrunner, former Vice President Joe Biden, tweeted: “A wall won’t stop a virus. Racism won’t stop a virus. Do your job.”
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- Rep. Dan Crenshaw accuses Rep. Ted Lieu of ‘woke virtue signalling’ after Lieu warned of xenophobia from what GOP members are calling coronavirus