Trump’s Homeland Security officials later clarified that the new travel restrictions would apply only to 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 travel ban does not apply to the UK, Ireland, Romania, Croatia, Ukraine but affects 26 European states that are part of the Schengen area.
The 26-nation border-free Schengen travel zone includes France, Italy, Germany, Greece, Austria, Belgium and others, and the White House said the zone had recorded the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases outside of mainland China.
EU leaders lambasted the decision, saying it had been imposed "unilaterally and without consultation."
The criticism was led by EU Council President Charles Michel and his Commission counterpart Ursula von der Leyen who said, "The Coronavirus is a global crisis, not limited to any continent, and it requires cooperation rather than unilateral action.”
In a strongly-worded statement the pair said, "The European Union disapproves of the fact that the US decision to improve a travel ban was taken unilaterally and without consultation."
"The European Union is taking strong action to limit the spread of the virus," they added.
"The Coronavirus is a global crisis, not limited to any continent and it requires cooperation rather than unilateral action" Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel
The EU, they said, will assess Trump's decision amid deep concern over the economic impact, with markets already heavily hit by the new virus.
In a subsequent tweet, Michel said, “We will assess the situation. Economic disruption must be avoided.”
The former Belgian premier added that Europe “is taking all necessary measures” to contain the spread of the virus.
After initially playing down the Coronavirus threat, in a televised address Donald Trump blamed Europe for not acting quickly enough to address the “foreign virus” and claimed that US clusters were “seeded” by European travellers.
There are nearly 400 daily flights from Europe to the US and about 72.4 million passengers flew from the US to Europe in the year ended last June, making it the most popular international destination. About one-third of those passengers fly on US airlines, the rest on foreign carriers.
President Trump did not mention restrictions on Americans travelling to Europe.
Elsewhere, Socialist group leader Iratxe Garcia has warned that the outbreak could trigger an “unprecedented economic downturn.”
“The Coronavirus is taking a heavy toll on the health and lives of Europeans and could also spark an unprecedented economic downturn” Iratxe Garcia
Speaking on Thursday, the Spanish deputy said, “The Coronavirus is taking a heavy toll on the health and lives of Europeans and could also spark an unprecedented economic downturn. Against the backdrop of an already low GDP growth and low inflation, the real risk is now health, social, trade and a banking crisis simultaneously.”
“If the 2008 financial crisis has taught us anything, it’s that monetary policy alone cannot do the job, and that national measures are not enough – we need a joint and coordinated European fiscal stimulus. We know from experience that acting fast and acting together is the only effective answer to a crisis that affects us all.”
She added, “Our priority must be to save lives, but we are also called on to do our utmost to ensure that after the virus outbreak, people will still have jobs to return to.”