WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Saturday announced it would expand an existing ban on travel from Iran in response to the accelerating novel coronavirus outbreak, barring any foreigner who has visited Iran within the last 14 days from entering the United States.
Later in the day the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention upped its travel alerts for Italy and Iran yesterday to the highest level, Level 3, which means avoid all non-essential travel. The State Department also increased its warning advising Americans not to travel to certain regions of Italy and South Korea affected by the virus.
During a press conference, Trump hinted he was considering expanding travel restrictions, including a potential closure of the U.S.-Mexico border.
The administration’s Iran action expands an existing and highly controversial travel ban first enacted in 2017, which prohibits citizens of 13 countries with substantial Muslim populations from entering the United States. Australia’s government on Saturday also banned travel from Iran, where the coronavirus death rate is higher than any country outside China.
Moments before Trump addressed reporters at the White House, public health officials in Washington state announced the first coronavirus death on U.S. soil. A male patient died at EvergreenHealth Medical Center in Kirkland, Wash., a suburb east of Seattle, the Associated Press reported.
Both Trump and Pence, however, identified the patient as female. In offering his condolences, Trump referred to the patient as “a wonderful woman, a medically high-risk patient in her late 50s.”
Trump’s remarks came the day after a campaign rally in South Carolina at which he called the coronavirus Democrats’ “new hoax,” accusing his detractors of using the disease outbreak to harm him politically.
During Saturday’s press conference, the president justified his remarks, saying he was “certainly not” referring to the disease outbreak. Democrats’ criticism of his administration’s response, he said, constituted “a continuation of the hoax, whether it’s the impeachment hoax or the Russia-Russia-Russia hoax.”
Administration officials also countered reports that the administration had directed public health officials including Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease researcher, to preemptively clear public remarks with Pence’s office. The New York Times reported on Thursday that Fauci had told colleagues the White House had instructed him not to speak without clearance, sparking fears that the White House had effectively muzzled leading government scientists. Fauci on Saturday called the report a “real mischaracterization.”
“He was never muzzled,” Trump said, calling a reporter’s question “very dishonest.”
Fauci also applauded Trump’s late-January decision to enact a ban on Chinese citizens and other foreign nationals who had set foot in China from traveling to the United States.
“If we had not done that, we would have had many, many more cases, right here, that we would have to be dealing with,” Fauci said.
Trump on Saturday also said executives from a number of global pharmaceutical companies would gather at the White House on Monday to discuss the development of a potential coronavirus vaccine.
“By the way, the meeting with the pharmaceutical companies was actually set up before over drug pricing, because we want prices to go way down,” Trump said. “But it turns out to be a very convenient meeting, as it pertains to the vaccine.”