By Steven Musil
President Donald Trump on Wednesday announced new travel restrictions that prohibit travel from Europe to the US in an effort designed to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The temporary restrictions, which go into effect at midnight on Friday, don’t apply to travel from the UK.
“To keep new cases from entering our shores, we will be suspending all travel from Europe to the United States for the next 30 days,” Trump said in a rare televised address from the Oval Office. “There will be exemptions for Americans who have gone through appropriate screenings. These restrictions will not apply to the United Kingdom.”
Although he suggested during the address that the ban would apply to cargo, he later backtracked on that in a tweet after the address. Trump also suggested on nursing homes stop all nonessential visits and announced federally backed small-business loans, indicating that he will direct the Small Business Administration to provide low-interest loans to affected businesses.
Trump’s address came after the World Health Organization earlier Wednesday officially declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic. The WHO was reticent to call the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic in an attempt to prevent panic and suggested containment measures were helping control the spread, but experts suggested the conditions were met in late February as case numbers in Italy, South Korea and Iran began to rapidly climb.
The acting chief of the Department of Homeland Security, Chad F. Wolf, said in a statement that Trump’s new travel restrictions “will will be disruptive to some travelers,” they are necessary to protect Americans “from further exposure to the potentially deadly coronavirus.”
The new strain of coronavirus, which can develop into a respiratory illness known as COVID-19, has infected more than 120,000 people and caused more than 4,300 deaths globally. The US has more than 1,000 confirmed cases.
Trump accused the EU of not taking appropriate actions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus from China.
“The European Union failed to take the same precautions and restrict travel from China and other hot spots,” Trump said in his address Wednesday. “As a result a large number of new clusters in the United States were seeded by travel.”
Trump didn’t explain why his administration chose to exempt the UK, which has reported six coronavirus deaths and 373 cases, including the health minister.
He also reminded Americans to take common sense measures to ensure their health.
“For all Americans, it is essential that everyone take extra precautions and practice good hygiene,” he said.
Earlier Wednesday, Trump tweeted that he’s “fully prepared to use the full power of the Federal Government to deal with our current challenge of the CoronaVirus!”.
Also Wednesday, the White House gathered representatives from major tech companies for a teleconference Wednesday on coordinating their response to the coronavirus outbreak. Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter participated.
Tech companies have already been reacting to the outbreak by canceling conferences, taking steps to combat misinformation on their platforms and instructing employees to work from home.