Ashley Scoby, a freelance writer who has been living in Budapest for the last month, went to sleep early on Wednesday night with only a slight concern of the coronavirus spreading throughout Europe.
But when she woke up the next morning at 7 a.m., she found 28 text messages on her phone—all from concerned friends and family members frantic about President Donald Trump’s new travel ban that won’t allow her to return home because of the growing pandemic.
“I found out this morning because I had gone to bed before Trump addressed anything and I woke up to 28 text frantic messages,” the 26-year-old told The Daily Beast on Thursday. “They all kind of said: ‘Trump just trapped you in Europe’.”
On Wednesday evening, President Donald Trump announced a 30-day travel suspension for travel from most of Europe in an attempt to stop the spread of the flu-like virus that has to date infected more than 130,000 people worldwide.
“Smart action today will prevent the spread of the virus tomorrow,” Trump said in his speech from the Oval Office. “We are at a critical time in the fight against the virus.”
Trump added the restrictions will start Friday at midnight, they do not apply to travels to and from the United Kingdom, despite the country’s health minister currently having coronavirus.
“I don’t know what necessarily this travel ban will accomplish,” Scoby said. “They’re exempting the UK, but the UK has more cases then several countries combined. Also, an American can easily come to Europe today and come back with the virus. How does this help the situation?”
But Trump’s statement was met with immediate contradiction after the Department of Homeland Security released a statement stating American citizens and permanent legal residents were exempt from the travel ban—and could return home.
The DHS also officially named the 26 affected—and thus banned—countries, which include: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.
After “flipping into action mode,” Scoby said it took her several newspapers articles to figure out her family’s fears were not entirely correct—since she is an American citizen and can return home—but her confusion and anxiety only exemplifies the sentiments of thousands of Americans across Europe on Thursday, who woke up to the conflicting messages from the Trump administration about whether or not they will be able to return to the United States.
“All it does is add more confusion and anxiety to a situation that is already high-stress. This is all so confusing and ridiculous,” she said. “If the president is going to make a grand pronouncement on live TV like that, the embassies should have been prepared to inform Americans abroad about what is going on.”
Anna Grace, a 20-year-old student on a trip to Europe, said she was woken up at 3:20 a.m. from a frantic call from her mother about the travel ban. Frantic, Grace told The Daily Beast her and her friends immediately rushed to Madrid’s Barajas airport to try to book flights home.
While she was able to change her flight to return home instead of continuing her European tour to France, her friends were less successful and are still trying to figure out how to return home.
“It was a mass panic,” she said. “We have no idea what’s going on and we just ran straight to the airport.”
New York Times journalist Mike McIntire and his wife also sprinted to Paris’s Charles De Gaulle airport on Thursday morning—after frantically purchasing two sets of flights back to New York to avoid getting stuck.
In a series of tweets, McIntire said it wasn’t until after purchasing flights to leave on Saturday did he learn traveling Americans were exempt from the ban—but was unable to get refunds for either ticket due to exceptionally long wait times.
Unable to get refunds at the airport, McIntire and his wife on the flight leaving Friday at midnight, after having spent more than his “monthly mortgage payment,” and joined his fellow “exhausted Americans being served complimentary Peach Bellinis”
“Was awakened at 2:15 am Paris time by a concerned relative in America saying “Trump just banned all travel from Europe!” Turning on the TV, I saw that indeed appeared to be so,” he originally tweeted, later noting that a Delta ticket agent said that another American spent $20,000 to buy tickets online after Trump’s announcement.
Scoby, however, has no immediate plans to spend thousands of dollars on a trip back to the United States. While she did look at flights after hearing the news Thursday morning, she said she “just not in a position to drop $2,000 for a one-way flight” back to a country where she does not have a permanent address.
“Right now, I am a full nomad. I don’t have an address. I have no home to go back too,” she said, stressing that airlines and the embassy have provided no information about how to proceed under this ban.
As a “generally healthy person” who has been taking the normal precautions against contracting the coronavirus thus far, the 26-year-old said her only concern up to this point was “becoming a vector of it and spreading to other people.” She says this ban only added “more concern” because it has combined the “normal feel you would have about a pandemic situation” with the fears about “getting stuck in another country.”
The 26-year-old noted that while only clarity she has gotten so far is that she can turn to the United States, it was not clear when, how, or if she needs to be quarantined upon arrival.
“I’ve spent the night outside an airport sidewalk before so I am not planning to go back until it’s absolutely necessary,” she said with a laugh, adding at she has a flight back to Kansas City in six days. “I’m solo. So that doesn’t exactly make things easier.”