Locked out: Europeans grapple with new US travel ban

Coronavirus

A passenger wears a protective mask at Adolfo Suarez-Barajas international airport on the outskirts of Madrid, Spain, Wednesday, March 11, 2020. Spanish authorities closed schools and halted direct flights to and from Italy. Italy is the country with most coronavirus cases in Europe, and Spain this week reported a sharp increase in cases. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

PARIS (AP) — They had spent months planning their route, a 2,200-mile trans-America road trip, a voyage of a lifetime.

Just when it was within touching distance, with a flight into New Orleans booked for March 24, Jean-Michel and Christiane Deaux’s dream trip evaporated, falling victim to the new anti-virus travel ban announced Wednesday by President Donald Trump.

The French retirees were among legions of Europeans scrambling Thursday to adjust to the idea that the United States is now suddenly off-limits to them.

“We’ve been preparing this trip for years,” Jean-Michel Deaux said. “It was going to be a pilgrimage.”

Their March-May voyage would have taken them through multiple states, on a giant south-north loop. They planned to follow in the footsteps of the Marquis de Lafayette, the French aristocrat who fought with American colonists against the British. They wanted to see Amish communities in Pennsylvania, take in music in Memphis and ride a boat on the Mississippi. They even bought extra suitcases to carry gifts and souvenirs back to France.

“I’ve been studying the maps every night,” Deaux said. “I had already pictured myself on the boat.”

As the pandemic grips Europe and the U.S., it continues to ebb in China, where the first cases of COVID-19 emerged in December. It reported a record low of just 15 new cases Thursday and was cautiously monitoring new arrivals who were returning with the virus from elsewhere.

More than three-fourths of China’s patients have recovered. Most people 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, the World Health Organization says.

Trump, in a rare Oval Office address to the nation Wednesday night, said the monthlong restriction on travel from Europe would begin late Friday, at midnight.

While Trump said all European travel would be cut off, Homeland Security officials later clarified that the new travel restrictions would apply only to most foreign nationals who have been in the “Schengen Area” at any point for 14 days prior to their scheduled arrival to the United States. The area includes France, Italy, German, Greece, Austria, Belgium and others, and the White House said the zone has the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases outside of mainland China.

On the receiving end of the restrictions, Europeans struggled to make sense of it. And there were immediate howls of concern from the travel industry.

Deaux said he’d try to reschedule their voyage for later in the year, in hopes the virus passes.

“When I heard this morning, I was very disappointed but not surprised,” he said. “All the preparations, ruined.”

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The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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