WASHINGTON — President Trump on Wednesday said the United States would suspend travel from Europe for 30 days, a dramatic escalation of the federal government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.
The measures come the same day that the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a global pandemic. Already, U.S. health officials have recorded over 1,000 cases of the novel coronavirus and the respiratory disease it causes, known as Covid-19. Worldwide cases exceed 125,000, nearly 5,000 of which have been fatal.
The federal government had previously placed travel bans on regions of Italy and South Korea, and all of China and Iran. Trump said the new travel ban, which takes effect Friday at midnight, would not apply to the United Kingdom — though the U.K. has reported far more cases than many European Union countries. Some Americans currently in Europe would be permitted to return, he said.
Despite the seriousness of his message, Trump at times attempted to impart an upbeat message, even amid a global market downturn a wave of new U.S. cases.
“The virus will not have a chance against us,” he said. “No nation is more prepared, or more resilient than the United States.”
Trump also said his administration would advise nursing homes to suspend all “medically unnecessary” visits. Though many Covid-19 cases are mild, older Americans and those with medical conditions including heart disease, lung disease, and diabetes are seen as particularly high-risk, and have accounted for the bulk of deaths.
“In general, older Americans should also avoid nonessential travel in crowded areas,” Trump said. “My administration is coordinating directly with communities with the largest outbreaks, and we have issued guidance on school closures, social distancing, and reducing large gatherings.”
Trump echoed the message of public health officials, urging Americans to frequently wash their hands, clean frequently used surfaces, and staying home from work if experiencing symptoms.
In many ways, the speech was Trump’s latest effort to prevent the Covid-19 outbreak from causing panic. As the crisis has unfolded in recent months, Trump has misleadingly compared the disease to the seasonal flu; suggested it would “miraculously” disappear with warmer April weather; and referred Democrats’ criticism of his administration’s response as a “hoax.”
Countries have faced public health threats “from the beginning of time,” Trump said. “It only matters how you respond, and we are responding with great speed and professionalism. Our team is the best anywhere in the world.”
Despite his boasting, Trump’s administration has faced a barrage of criticism surrounding its response to the coronavirus.
The Washington Post reported that Trump’s health department announced it would begin testing prospective Covid-19 patients for the disease before local governments were prepared to implement tests, and before the test kits worked. Politico reported that, for nearly a day in February, the Department of Health and Human Services email system crashed, hampering key communications between top officials. A whistleblower complaint alleged that some U.S. workers assisted Americans returning from Wuhan, China — the disease’s epicenter — without wearing protective gear or receiving proper training.
And high-ranking Trump administration officials have reportedly overruled career civil servants within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on multiple occasions. In February, the State Department flew home 328 Americans from a cruise ship experiencing a rash of Covid-19 cases against the CDC’s explicit guidance, the Post reported. And the Associated Press reported Saturday that the White House declined to issue a CDC-recommended advisory that senior citizens not travel by airplane.
Wednesday marked perhaps the largest escalation in state and local governments’ response to the outbreak. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said at a congressional hearing that he recommended against events that require large crowds.
Former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the remaining contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination, postponed campaign rallies this week. City and county officials recommended or even forced the postponement of events ranging from concerts to baseball games. The NCAA announced on Wednesday it would stage its highly attended men’s and women’s basketball tournaments with no fans present. The NBA suspended its season after a player tested positive for the coronavirus Wednesday evening, ESPN reported.