President Trump’s threat to impose a travel ban on Latin America to prevent travelers from infecting Americans with COVID-19 is a monumental display of political hypocrisy. It obscures the fact that the United States leads the world in the number of coronavirus deaths and has had many more virus-related deaths per capita than any Latin American country.
Tuesday, when reporters asked him whether he is considering a travel ban on Latin America, and on Brazil in particular, Trump said, “We are considering it.” He added, “I don’t want people coming in here and infecting our people. I don’t want people over there sick either.”
As he’s doing almost daily to redirect the conversation from the fact that the United States, by far, has the highest number of coronavirus deaths in the world, Trump claimed that the record U.S. death toll is the result of more COVID-19 testing in the United States. “I view it as a badge of honor,” he said.
But, regardless of Trump’s excuses for his erratic response to the coronavirus crisis, here are the facts:
First, the United States, with 4.2 percent of the world’s population, has more than 28 percent of the world’s COVID-19 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center. At the time of this writing, 91,845 of the 322,861 COVID-19 deaths in the world have been in the United States.
Second, if we measure COVID-19 deaths as percentage of the population, some countries — mostly in Europe — have a higher fatality rate than the United States does. But the United States is high on the list of COVID-19 deaths worldwide, and much higher than any Latin American country.
While Belgium, Great Britain, France, Italy and a handful of other countries have a higher per capita COVID-19 death rate than the United States, dozens of other countries have much lower coronavirus-related mortality rates.
There are 27.6 COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 people in the United States. By comparison, there are 9.6 deaths per 100,000 people in Germany, 0.5 deaths in South Korea and 0.4 deaths in Australia, the Johns Hopkins database shows.
Third, in Latin America — the region Trump is considering cutting off from U.S. travel — no country comes even close to the U.S. per capita COVID-19 death rate.
Ecuador, the Latin American country that has made the biggest headlines for its COVID-19 deaths, has 16.4 deaths per 100,000 people. Brazil, the country whose death toll is rising most rapidly in the region, has eight COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 people, a fraction of the U.S. death toll, the Johns Hopkins figures show.
Mexico’s coronavirus death toll is of 4.2 fatalities per 100,000 people, while Peru’s is 8.7 deaths, Colombia’s is 1.2 deaths, El Salvador’s is 0.5 deaths and Argentina’s is 0.9 deaths per the same number of people.
I couldn’t find one single Latin American country that comes even close to the U.S. COVID-19 death rate as a percentage of its population.
Granted, some countries may be undercounting their real death tolls. There are credible press reports that Mexico, among others, has counted many of its COVID-19 deaths as resulting from pulmonary diseases, rather than of coronavirus.
But even if Mexico had three times more coronavirus deaths than it has officially reported, it would still have a much lower death rate as a percentage of its population than the United States.
So why is Trump threatening to close down travel with Latin America? Likely to divert attention from his late and confused handling of the COVID-19 crisis. He’s blaming others for his mistakes and trying to energize many of his nationalist, xenophobic followers.
If Trump is serious about cutting international travel to prevent Americans from being infected, he should have long ago cut travel with Belgium, Great Britain, France, Italy, Spain, and other European countries with much higher COVID-19 death rates than the United States or Latin America.
A travel ban on Latin America would be pure demagogic populism, with thinly veiled racist undertones. It would badly hurt U.S. cities such as Miami, Orlando, Houston and New York, and it would raise more questions about why he’s picking on Latin America, and not Europe.