Mr Trump announced he was shutting down “all travel from Europe”, except the UK, in a speech as notable for the underlying tones of nationalism in the president’s reference to a “foreign virus” as it was for his apparent unease.
The 73-year-old sniffed heavily, suppressed several coughs and appeared to be struggling with the teleprompter throughout his short but laboured speech, which immediately saw members of his administration scramble to correct his errors.
First, the president risked sending markets tumbling even further when he announced, seemingly by accident, that “these prohibitions will not only apply to the tremendous amount of trade and cargo, but various other things as we get approval”.
Shortly after his address, the White House clarified the travel ban “only applies to human beings, not goods and cargo ... the people transporting goods will not be admitted into the country, but the goods will be”.
Mr Trump also corrected himself on Twitter, in a post dressed up as a reminder.
“Please remember, very important for all countries and businesses to know that trade will in no way be affected by the 30-day restriction on travel from Europe,” he wrote. ”The restriction stops people not goods.”
Second, Mr Trump failed to mention that the ban would not apply to American residents, citizens, or “generally” citizens’ immediate family members.
Less than an hour later, the Department of Homeland Security’s acting secretary Chad Wolf issued a statement making this clear.
Dublin Airport directed their customers to the statement on Twitter, because it made clear Ireland was exempt from the ban, which Mr Trump had also failed to mention.
Third, the president claimed health insurance providers had agreed to waive their customers payments for coronavirus-related treatment.
“Earlier this week I met with the leaders of health insurance industry who have agreed to waive all co-payments for coronavirus treatments, extend insurance coverage to these treatments, and to prevent surprise medical billing,” he said.
But this was rebutted by a spokesperson for health insurance lobby group AHIP, senior figures of which had met Mr Trump at the White House earlier in the week.
A White House official also confirmed to CNN that insurers had only agreed to waive co-payments on testing, not treatment.
The move had been announced by the vice president, Mike Pence, on Tuesday.
Declaring his travel ban, which comes into effect on Friday, Mr Trump also attacked the European Union for not acting quickly enough, saying large numbers of clusters in the US had been “seeded by European travellers”.
The EU’s two presidents reacted angrily, issuing a joint statement on Thursday condemning the ban as potentially counterproductive.
Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel said the policy had been imposed by the US “without consultation” and warning the pandemic requires cooperation to defeat.
“The coronavirus is a global crisis, not limited to any continent and it requires cooperation rather than unilateral action,” they said.
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