The U.S. government’s response to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 took on new urgency on Wednesday night as President Donald Trump ordered a 30-day halt of travel from Europe. The move comes after the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a global pandemic earlier in the day.
The president made the announcement Wednesday evening during a primetime televised address to the nation from the Oval Office. He said that he was acting in an attempt to reduce the number of cases of coronavirus coming into the country from abroad.
“We are marshaling the full power of the federal government and the private sector,” Trump said. “We will ultimately and expeditiously defeat this virus.”
Trump said that all travel from Europe would be suspended for 30 days beginning on Friday, March 13. The order does not apply to permanent residents of the United States or to travel from the U.K. After Wednesday’s address, the White House clarified that the travel suspension would only apply to people and not goods or cargo.
Although Trump said that the coronavirus is a “horrible infection” and health experts say that the crisis is worsening, the president also indicated that he still believes that the outbreak will end soon.
“This is not a financial crisis,” he said. “This is just a temporary moment in time that we will overcome as a nation and a world.”
Trump also said Wednesday night that his administration has taken steps to reduce the impact of the coronavirus epidemic for Americans, including receiving an agreement from insurance companies to extend coverage treatment for the virus and to waive related co-pays. He added that he would ask Congress to pass legislation to provide financial relief to workers who fall ill or are subject to a quarantine order. He also said that he would instruct the Treasury Department to “defer tax payments without interest or penalties for certain individuals and businesses negatively impacted,” by the outbreak.
The president acknowledged that unnecessary travel should be avoided and that the elderly should take special precautions, but for “the vast majority of Americans, the risk is very, very low.”
Criticism of Trump’s Response
After Trump’s address, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi criticized the president for failing to mention the lack of coronavirus test kits that has hindered the nation’s response to the 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,” they 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.”
Also late Wednesday, the NBA said that it would suspend the entire basketball season in progress until further notice after news broke that Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert had tested positive for the virus and the NCAA announced that games for the March Madness tournaments would be played without an audience in attendance.
Additionally, the cannabis conference Spannabis, held in Barcelona, was canceled Wednesday.