Questions about Mr. Trump’s handling of the crisis, particularly in his early days when he suggested it was being used by Democrats to undermine his re-election prospects, are likely to define his presidency. Mr Navarro’s memo is proof that some in the upper echelons of the administration had at least considered the possibility that the epidemic could turn into something far more serious than what Mr Trump publicly acknowledged in the ‘time.
Neither Mr. Navarro nor White House spokespersons responded to requests for comment.
The note, which was reviewed by the New York Times, was sent by Mr. Navarro to the National Security Council and then distributed to several administration officials, people familiar with the events said. It reached a number of senior officials as well as associates of Mick Mulvaney, then acting chief of staff, they said, but it was not clear if Mr. Trump saw it.
Mr. Navarro is a well-established Chinese hawk who has long been wary of the country’s government and business practices. Mr Navarro and Matthew Pottinger, the deputy chief of the National Security Council, were among the few officials who urged their colleagues in January to take a tougher line in the face of the growing coronavirus threat.
But their warnings have been seen by other officials as primarily reflecting their concerns about China’s behavior – and their concerns seem more retrospective than they actually were, other officials say.
With the subject line “Impose a travel ban on China?” Mr Navarro opened the note by writing, “If the probability of a pandemic is greater than about 1%, a theoretical analysis of the coronavirus games indicates that the clear dominant strategy is an immediate travel ban to China. “
Mr Navarro concluded at one point: “Whether or not the coronavirus turns out to be a pandemic-level epidemic, there are costs associated with putting in place policies to contain and mitigate the spread of the disease. The most readily available option to contain the spread of the outbreak is to issue a travel ban to and from the source of the outbreak, namely mainland China. “
He suggested that in an “aggressive” lockdown scenario, a travel ban could have to last up to 12 months for proper lockdown, a length that some White House officials then considered unsustainable.