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Trump’s virus playbook offers US vs world strategy

WASHINGTON (AP) — It’s a “foreign” virus, he says — one that can be fought by closing the nation’s borders to dangerous foreigners carrying scary disease.

President Donald Trump has turned to a familiar playbook as he tries to grapple with the spiraling coronavirus outbreak, blaming immigrants for the country’s problems and casting the global health pandemic as another case of the U.S. against the world.

It’s an approach that public health officials say ignores the new reality of a situation that is fueling panic and confusion and fundamentally altering the American way of life.

But it’s business as usual for an isolationist president who once proposed barring Muslims from entering the country and has worked throughout his presidency to fortify the nation’s borders and find novel ways to keep out those he deems unworthy, diseased or unsafe.

The pattern was especially jarring during Trump’s rare Oval Office address to the nation Wednesday night. Instead of calling on Americans to lock arms with other nations to take on a common foe, Trump instead pointed the finger. He blamed Europe for fueling the virus’ continued advancement — even as the U.S. has struggled to provide basic testing, local cases skyrocket and pockets of disease increase.

Trump credited his decision to restrict travel from China for keeping the U.S. case count low and then announced he would be extending his ban to some of America’s closest allies as he took the unprecedented step of sharply restricting travel from much of Europe to the U.S.

“The European Union failed to take the same precautions and restrict travel from China and other hot spots,” Trump said. “As a result, a large number of new clusters in the United States were seeded by travelers from Europe.”

To be sure, infectious disease experts agree that limiting travel from countries badly affected by a virus can help stop its spread. The impacted region is home to several countries that have been struggling to contain mass outbreaks. And 70% of new cases worldwide are in Europe, Vice President Mike Pence said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

But public health and homeland security officials say that, at this stage in the outbreak, a different focus is warranted, given that the virus has already spread throughout most of the continental U.S., with hotpots already established in states including New York, California and Washington. The virus is now spreading person-to-person, within U.S. communities across the nation.

“There’s little value to European travel restrictions,” concluded Trump’s former national security adviser Tom Bossert, who called the president’s move a “Poor use of time & energy” in a series of tweets.

“Earlier, yes. Now, travel restrictions/screening are less useful,” Bossert wrote on Twitter. “We have nearly as much disease here in the US as the countries in Europe. We MUST focus on layered community mitigation measures-Now!”

Bossert added that if the U.S. does not implement aggressive mitigation measures like shutting schools and halting public gatherings to try to halt the virus’s spread, the U.S. could, ironically, “end up infecting or reinfecting Europe.”

European Union officials were quick to slam the president’s “unilateral” decision, declaring the virus a “global crisis, not limited to any continent” that “requires cooperation rather than unilateral action.”

“As you know, it’s a virus that’s gone pandemic. It’s all over the world, knows no borders, knows no nationalities,” Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar told Trump Thursday. “And I think we all need to work together in the world on this.”

More than 127,000 people in more than 110 countries have now been infected by the virus, with the vast majority in four countries: China, South Korea, Iran and Italy. More than 4,700 people have died worldwide.

Most people infected by the new virus have only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, though symptoms can be severe, including pneumonia, especially in older adults and people with existing health problems. Recovery for mild cases takes about two weeks, while more severe illness may take three to six weeks, according to the World Health Organization.

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