WASHINGTON — President Trump just announced a 30-day travel ban from Europe to the United States in an attempt to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The ban will take place Friday, Trump said in a rare, primetime address to the nation, seated in the Oval Office. Shortly after Trump spoke, the Department of Homeland Security specified the ban doesn’t apply to legal U.S. permanent residents or the immediate family members of U.S. citizens.
But it does apply to residents or citizens of 26 countries across Europe.
“We will be suspending all travel from Europe to the United States for the next 30 days,” Trump said, blasting coronavirus as “a foreign virus.”
The ban marks a stunning, unprecedented response to stem the outbreak that was officially classified as a pandemic by the World Health Organization earlier Wednesday, and was accompanied by a rollout of proposals to boost the economy in the face of a white-knuckle stock market drop that has rattled investors and businesses.
“The virus will not have a chance against us,” Trump pledged. “We have the best economy, the most advanced health care and the most talented doctors and scientists anywhere in the world.”
In typical Trumpian language likely to draw fire from critics, the president praised his own administration for blocking flights from China in January and said that Europe’s failure to follow suit had resulted in a rise of infections on the continent. And he blamed Europe for helping to spread the virus to the United States.
“The European Union failed to take the same precautions and restrict travel from China and other hotspots,” Trump said, adding without explanation or evidence that incidents of infection in the U.S. had been “seeded by travelers from Europe.”
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The speech marked a remarkable turnaround for a president who has previously derided fears of the pandemic as a “hoax,” insisted that America’s limited testing is actually widespread and broadly available, and suggested that the disease may “disappear” once the weather gets warmer.
In a statement after Trump’s address, DHS said Trump had signed a proclamation that “suspends the entry of most foreign nationals who have been in certain European countries at any point during the 14 days prior to their scheduled arrival to the United States.”
The statement proceeded to name all 26 countries in the Schengen area: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.
“In the next 48 hours, in the interest of public health, I intend to issue a supplemental Notice of Arrivals Restriction requiring U.S. passengers that have been in the Schengen Area to travel through select airports where the U.S. Government has implemented enhanced screening procedures,” said Department of Homeland Security acting Secretary Chad Wolf, in a statement.
‘We are way behind on testing’
Immediately after Trump spoke, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo appeared on CNN to blast the Trump administration’s bungled attempts to ramp up testing for the virus. Fewer than 10,000 people may have been tested in the U.S. so far, a number so low it’s left specialists unable to state with confidence the true extent of the disease in America.
"We are way behind on testing,” Cuomo said. “If you look at China, you look at South Korea and you see how they turned that curve, it was with very aggressive testing where they got ahead of it."
Trump’s travel ban from Europe follows a massive outbreak in Italy that’s resulted in a nationwide lockdown in which businesses have been shuttered and travel severely curtailed in the southern-European country.
But the sudden travel ban, with just two days’ warning, appeared to threaten to provoke a scramble at European airports for those attempting to enter the U.S. before the deadline on Friday.
Tom Hanks diagnosed
Shortly after the president wrapped his speech, a publicist for Tom Hanks confirmed that the actor and his wife had tested positive for COVID-19, the virus caused by the coronavirus, the first celebrities to disclose it. The couple was in Australia for production for an untitled Elvis Presley movie, in which Hanks is playing Presley’s manager Colonel Tom Parker.
That they were able to be tested highlights the gap between the United States and other countries where testing is widely available.
Then the National Basketball Association suspended its season until further notice after a player tested positive for COVID-19.
Cover: President Donald Trump speaks in an address to the nation from the Oval Office at the White House about the coronavirus Wednesday, March, 11, 2020, in Washington. (Doug Mills/The New York Times via AP, Pool)