(AP) — President Donald Trump said Wednesday he is suspending all travel between the U.S. and Europe for 30 days beginning Friday as he seeks to combat a viral pandemic.
Trump made the announcement in an Oval Office address to the nation, blaming the European Union for not acting quickly enough to address the novel coronavirus and saying U.S. clusters were “seeded” by European travelers.
“We made a lifesaving move with early action on China,“ Trump said. “Now we must take the same action with Europe.”
Trump said the restrictions won’t apply to the United Kingdom and the U.S. would monitor the situation to determine if travel could be reopened earlier.
The president said he was also directing agencies to provide unspecified financial relief for “for workers who are ill, quarantined or caring for others due to coronavirus,“ and asked Congress to take action to extend it.
Trump said the U.S. will will defer tax payments for some individual and business filers for three months to lessen the impacts of the virus outbreak. He said the Small Business Administration will also make low-interest loans available to businesses to help them weather the storm.
“This is not a financial crisis,“ he said. “This just a temporary moment of time that we will overcome together as a nation and as a world.“
The mounting effort to contain the virus and financial fallout intensified on a grueling day: Communities canceled public events nationwide, universities moved to cancel in-person classes, and families grappled with the impact of disruptions to public schools.
In San Francisco, Mayor London Breed banned all gatherings of 1,000 or more people for the next two weeks in the city of 880,000, including Golden State Warriors basketball games. California’s Santa Clara County, home to San Jose and Silicon Valley, did the same.
The Seattle public school system, which has about 53,000 students, announced that it would close starting Thursday.
The number of confirmed cases of the infection topped 1,000 in the U.S. and the World Health Organization declared the global crisis is now a pandemic.
Meanwhile, fears about the virus’s economic fallout dragged stocks down again. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost more than 1,400 points, finishing 20% below its recent record high.
Trump reiterated his call on Congress to pass a cut to the federal payroll tax in order to stimulate the economy, saying he was “marshaling the full power” of the government and private sector to protect the American people.
As government officials warned that the outbreak in the U.S. will only get worse, the Capitol was set to halt public tours of the building as the shifting developments raised questions, urgency and a new level of unease.
“I can say we will see more cases, and things will get worse than they are right now,“ Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, said in testimony before the House Oversight and Reform Committee. He said the virus is “10 times more lethal than the seasonal flu.”
In a week of mixed messages and false starts, Washington suddenly seemed poised to act.
“I am fully prepared to use the full power of the Federal Government to deal with our current challenge of the CoronaVirus!” Trump tweeted before a meeting with bankers in which he offered assurances that “we are going to get the problem solved.“
“Now we’re hitting a patch and we’re going to have to do something with respect to getting rid of this virus as quickly as possible and as safely as possible,“ he said.
Among other measures, officials were considering placing a “Level 3 Health Travel Notice” on the entire European Union. Such a notice would recommend that Americans avoid nonessential travel to the region and quarantine themselves for 14 days after returning home.
“As you know, we have another part of the world, Europe, that is in very tough shape, having a hard time right now with the virus,” Trump said during a meeting with bankers to discuss how the financial services industry can help consumers and small businesses affected by the outbreak.
Yet there was confusion at the White House, even as officials began to come to grips with the enormous gravity of the situation. Aides struggled to determine what action the president could take unilaterally and what required congressional action, as Trump personally weighed the public and political reactions to the options before him.
On Capitol Hill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi unveiled an economic assistance plan that was gaining bipartisan backing. Central to the package is free coronavirus testing nationwide and emergency funding to reimburse lost paychecks for those self-quarantining, missing work or losing jobs amid the outbreak.
The draft legislation would create a new federal emergency sick leave benefit for people with the virus or caring for a coronavirus victim. It would provide two-thirds of an employee’s monthly income for up to three months.
Facing a likely surge in unemployment claims, the package would also give states money for the newly jobless. It would provide additional funding for food and nutrition benefits for pregnant women, mothers and young children. It also would up money for “meals on wheels” and food for low-income elderly people.
“Right now we’re trying to deal with the direct impact of the virus on individual citizens,“ said House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth, D-Ky.