WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump announced Wednesday that he would ban many foreign travelers from Europe for the next 30 days amid the growing coronavirus outbreak.
"The European Union failed to take the same precautions and restrict travel from China and other hot spots," Trump said Wednesday night, speaking from the Oval Office. "As a result, a large number of new clusters in the United States were seeded by travelers from Europe."
The travel ban goes into effect Friday at midnight. The restrictions apply only to foreign nationals, and not U.S. citizens, green card holders or the families of U.S. citizens, the Department of Homeland Security said. The White House further specified that the ban applied to foreign nationals who have visited 26 countries in Europe that allow unrestricted movement among them. Ireland and the U.K. are exempt, although it is not clear why because the virus is also present in Britain.
The travel ban does not apply to European trade or goods, though Trump suggested that that was the case during his prime-time address. The White House scrambled to fix his apparent misstatement, clarifying that the restriction applied only to people. Trump himself tweeted out a clarification moments after his speech ended.
In addition to the travel restrictions, Trump offered a series of economic relief actions to help workers and companies deal with the outbreak.
Calling the virus a "horrible infection," the president appeared to be backing away from his previous claims that cases were "going very substantially down." However, he offered no new rules to prevent the spread domestically, including expanding access to testing kits, increasing funding to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, restricting travel within the U.S. or providing resources to state health departments.
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The number of coronavirus cases across the country exceeded 1,000, with at least 33 deaths. The World Health Organization declared the outbreak a pandemic, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell more than 1,400 points.
Top Democrats sharply criticized Trump for not doing enough in his speech to address the rapidly spreading outbreak.
"We have a public health crisis in this country and the best way to help keep the American people safe and ensure their economic security is for the president to focus on fighting the spread of the coronavirus itself," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a joint statement. "Alarmingly, the president did not say how the administration will address the lack of coronavirus testing kits throughout the United States."
The House is set to take up a bill Thursday to provide further coronavirus relief measures, including free coronavirus testing, paid emergency leave for workers and food security assistance.
Trump said in the speech that insurance companies had agreed to waive all copayments for coronavirus treatments and would extend insurance coverage to include coronavirus treatments. Insurance companies, however, appeared to have been blindsided by Trump's announcement. According to Politico, a spokesperson for America's Health Insurance Plans said the agreement was to waive all payments for testing, not treatment.
Trump also said he would soon take emergency action to make sure people could stay home from work if they get sick or need to be quarantined. Trump said he would ask Congress to take legislative action to provide the relief but did not provide a timeline.
The president urged older people to "avoid nonessential travel in crowded areas" and recommended that nursing homes suspend all "medically unnecessary visits."
The White House said in a statement later Wednesday that Trump, who is 73 years old, is canceling coming trips to Colorado and Nevada "out of an abundance of caution."
Trump said: "For all Americans, it is essential that everyone take extra precautions and practice good hygiene. Each of us has a role to play in defeating this virus."
Trump announced that he was deferring tax payment for some individuals and business and would be providing additional relief to small businesses affected by the outbreak. Trump also implored Congress to approve an immediate payroll tax cut — a move that both parties have raised concerns about.
"This is not a financial crisis," Trump said. "This is just a temporary moment of time that we will overcome as a nation and as a world."
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Trump had insisted for weeks that he had the outbreak under control, painting a much rosier picture than his experts described. But health officials in recent days have sounded the alarm, warning the public that the outbreak is likely to get worse before it gets better.
The president, who has been criticized for focusing on the financial impact of the virus' spread, told reporters, "Our Number 1 priority is the health of the people of our country."
He said he was optimistic that the economy would get back to normal "in a short-term period."
"We're having to fix a problem that four weeks ago nobody thought would be a problem," Trump said. "This came out of nowhere, and actually it came out of China."
Asked by a reporter what he would "say to Americans who are concerned that you're not taking this seriously enough and that some of your statements don't match what your health experts are saying," Trump said: "That's CNN. Fake news."
Trump has delivered a prime-time Oval Office address only once before, on Jan. 8, 2019, when he called for $5 billion to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border during a partial government shutdown.