By Harrison Arubu
Washington/New York, March 12, 2020 (dpa/NAN)
U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday announced a 30-day ban on most travel from Europe set to take effect Friday at midnight, as the country experiences a surge in coronavirus cases.
“I will always put the well-being of America first,” Trump said in a rare address from the Oval Office.
But shortly after his televised announcement, which said the restrictions would apply to trade with Europe, Trump walked backed his statement in a tweet, saying the ban “stops people not goods.”
The travel ban is set to take effect Friday at midnight (0400 GMT), and does not include travellers from Britain or US citizens.
It will apply to anyone who was physically present within the Schengen Area – made up of 26 European countries with freedom of movement between them – in the 14 days prior to their attempted entry to the US.
The restrictions also include important exemptions for US residents, certain visa holders and many people with a familial relation to a US citizen or US resident.
President Trump blamed the European Union, EU, for his decision to suspend all travels from Europe to the United States alleging that the EU failed to take necessary steps to prevent the virus from entering its territory.
As a result, he said, a large number of new cases in the U.S. were by travellers from Europe.
The president said the new rules, aimed at keeping new cases from entering the country, would last for 30 days with effect from midnight on Friday.
However, he said the restrictions would not apply to the United Kingdom, which had 460 confirmed cases of the virus as at Wednesday night.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that there were 1,135 confirmed cases of the virus and 38 deaths in the U.S. as of Wednesday.
The virus, otherwise known as COVID-19, originated from China in December, resulting in 118,326 cases and 4,4292 deaths worldwide as of Wednesday.
Trump said: “At the very start of the outbreak, we instituted sweeping travel restrictions on China and put in place the first federally mandated quarantine in over 50 years.
“We declared a public health emergency and issued the highest level of travel warning on other countries as the virus spread its horrible infection.
“We have seen dramatic fewer cases of the virus in the United States than are now present in Europe.
“The European Union failed to take the same precautions and restrict travels from China and other hotspots.
“As a result, a large number of new clusters in the United States were ceded by travelers from Europe.”
The president explained that the travel suspension would also “apply to the tremendous amount of trade and cargo” coming into the U.S. from Europe.
The rules, he said, “will be adjusted, subject to conditions on the ground, and there will be exemptions for Americans who have undergone appropriate screenings.”
Trump also announced plans to provide working Americans affected by the virus with financial relief to enable them to stay at home without fear of financial hardship.
“This will be targeted for workers who are ill, quarantined, or caring for others due to Coronavirus.
“I will be asking Congress to take legislative action to extend this relief,” he said.
The president announced other emergency actions, including providing low-interest loans to small businesses impacted by the disease to help them overcome attendant “temporary economic disruptions”.
“To this end, I am asking Congress to increase funding for this programme by an additional $50 billion.
“Using emergency authority, I will be instructing the Treasury Department to defer tax payments, without interest or penalties, for certain individuals and businesses negatively impacted.
“This action will provide more than $200 billion of additional liquidity to the economy.
“Finally, I am calling on Congress to provide Americans with immediate payroll tax relief. Hopefully they will consider this very strongly,” he added.
Trump’s Oval Office address comes as the impact of the outbreak is being felt across the country causing major disruptions to financial markets, sporting events and school districts.
On Wednesday the death toll in the US reached 37, with 29 of the deaths in north-western Washington State, while cases surged past 1,300, according to a database assembled by John Hopkins University.
Earlier on Wednesday, Anthony Fauci, a top US official handling the novel coronavirus response, said the pandemic is “going to get worse.”
Fauci said the nation should “change our behaviour,” and said there should not be gatherings of large crowds.
In a surprise announcement the National Basketball Association – one of the biggest sporting organizations in the world – announced that the current basketball season will be suspended “until further notice” after a player preliminarily tested positive for the virus.
The NCAA collegiate basketball tournament, another massive weeks-long event, will also go on this month without fans in attendance.
The large US city of Seattle, located in Washington state, said Wednesday it will close all public schools for two weeks.
Meanwhile the State Department called on US citizens to reconsider all international travel in the light of the global health crisis.
“How much worse it will get will depend on our ability to do two things: to contain the influx of people who are infected coming from the outside, and the ability to contain and mitigate within our own country,” Fauci added.
The virus has roiled US markets, sending the Dow Jones Industrial average into a bear market on Wednesday – constituting a 20 per cent drop from the index’s 52-week high.
The novel coronavirus outbreak originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December and has spread across the globe, with nearly 120,000 cases confirmed worldwide.