President Donald Trump on Wednesday announced that the United States would suspend all incoming travel from Europe in order to prevent new cases of COVID-19 from entering the United States. In an address that alternately blamed China and all of Europe for the virus, Trump tried to portray it as a foriegn invader, neatly slipping into his usual America First rhetoric.
The measure would go into effect on Friday at midnight and last 30 days, Trump said. American citizens “who have undergone appropriate screenings” would be excluded, Trump said, as well as travel from the United Kingdom.
“Anything coming from Europe to the United States is what we are discussing,” he said.
The new restrictions, Trump said, “will be adjusted subject to conditions on the ground.”
Trump framed the prohibition as a consequence of Europe’s failure to block travel from China, as the White House has done.
“Taking early intense action, we have seen dramatically fewer cases of the virus in the United States than are now present in Europe,” he said. “The European union failed to take the same precautions and restrict travel from China and other hot spots.”
“As a result, a large number of new clusters in the United States were seeded by travelers from Europe.”
It’s not clear which clusters Trump was referring to, or whether the travelers were Europeans entering the country or Americans returning from abroad. Trump’s move seemed designed to depict the virus as an external threat, even as public health experts in his own administration describe it as now spreading widely on its own within the United States.
While Trump initially said in his Oval Office remarks that the temporary travel ban “will not only apply to the tremendous amount of trade and cargo, but various other things as we get approval,” he later reversed course in a tweet. “The restriction stops people not goods,” he wrote, saying that trade would not be affected by the move.
Hoping to get the payroll tax cut approved by both Republicans and Democrats, and please remember, very important for all countries & businesses to know that trade will in no way be affected by the 30-day restriction on travel from Europe. The restriction stops people not goods.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 12, 2020
The White House laid out the order in a presidential proclamation posted online Wednesday night.
Currently, Chinese citizens and foreign nationals who’ve been to China are barred from coming to the United States, and there is a State Department advisory against traveling to South Korea, which also has thousands of COVID-19 cases.
Referring to those two countries, the President said “we will re-evaluate the restrictions and warnings that are currently in place for a possible early opening.” He did not mention Iran, which has been severely impacted by COVID-19 and is also currently subject to a U.S. travel ban.
The President also announced certain economic actions he was taking, some of which would require congressional approval.
First, Trump said he was instructing the Small Business Administration to provide loans to firms affected by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“I am asking Congress to increase funding for this program by an additional $50 billion,” he said.
Trump also said he was instructing the Treasury Department to defer tax payments “without interest or penalties, for certain individuals and businesses” negatively impacted by coronavirus. He did not discuss specifics.
He also called on Congress to provide “payroll tax relief,” though again, Trump didn’t provide specifics of the proposal.
Watch Trump’s address below:
This post has been updated.