WASHINGTON: The US will suspend all travel from Europe to the country for 30 days in an effort to curb the COVID-19 outbreak, said President Donald Trump on Wednesday night (Mar 11).
The travel restriction will not apply to the United Kingdom, he said in a televised address.
"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. The new rules will go into effect Friday at midnight," said Trump.
He said Europe saw more cases because governments failed to stop travel from China, where the COVID-19 epidemic began.
“The European Union failed to take the same precautions and restrict travel from China and other hot spots. As a result, a large number of new clusters in the United States were seeded by travellers from Europe," said the president.
Trump briefly caused alarm as he announced that the "tremendous amount of trade and cargo" from Europe would also be banned, forcing officials to clarify that the measures would apply only to humans, not goods or cargo.
The president, facing a re-election in November, has taken fire for what critics say is a slow response to the spread of the coronavirus, which has claimed more than 4,500 lives worldwide.
“We are marshalling the full power of the federal government and the private sector to protect the American people," he said.
"This is the most aggressive and comprehensive effort to confront a foreign virus in modern history.”
AMERICANS ADVISED NOT TO TRAVEL
The US State Department later on Wednesday issued a travel advisory on its website, advising citizens to reconsider travel abroad due to the global impact of the coronavirus outbreak and countries' response to it.
"Many areas throughout the world are now experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks and taking action that may limit traveller mobility, including quarantines and border restrictions," the notice said.
The Department of Defense separately announced on Wednesday it was placing a 60-day travel restriction for service members, Pentagon civilians and families travelling to, from or through China, Iran, Italy and South Korea, among others.
These countries have received a Level 3 designation from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The announcement comes after multiple active-duty US service members fell sick in the worldwide coronavirus outbreak.
EMERGENCY TAX DEFERMENT
As the US stock market took another hit from the coronavirus on Wednesday, Trump said he would take emergency action to provide financial relief for workers who are ill, quarantined or caring for others due to the illness.
He said he was instructing the Treasury Department to defer tax payments without interest or penalties for certain businesses and individuals affected.
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Trump added he was asking for another US$50 billion in funding for small business loans to help those stricken by the economic disruption.
However, there was no declaration of a national emergency which would allow the government access instantly to extra funding.
It was not clear whether Trump's plans would calm markets, which have panicked over the mounting impact on supply lines, consumer demand and investor flight to safety.
"This is not a financial crisis," Trump said. "This is just a temporary moment of time that we will overcome together as a nation."
ELECTION CAMPAIGN DISRUPTED
Multiple cultural and sporting events have been cancelled across the United States, schools and universities are closing, and companies are scrambling to face the probability of sending many employees home on sick leave or self-quarantine.
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Even the US presidential election faces disruption, with Democratic candidates Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders canceling rallies and questions mounting over the future of Trump's own usually frequent rallies.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said earlier that the White House was "looking at providing substantial relief to certain taxpayers and small businesses who will be able to get extensions on their taxes".
"We think we can provide over US$200 billion of liquidity into the economy by delaying certain tax payments," he said.
Democratic leaders are cool on the idea of tax cuts and made a competing proposal for compensating workers' lost wages and sick leave, as well as providing loan forgiveness for individuals.
The Democratic proposal also called for disaster loans and grants for small businesses, emergency housing assistance, and loosened requirements for food assistance including continuing to serve meals to children even if schools are closed.