U.S. considers restrictions on European travellers as coronavirus hits home

By Alexandra Alper and Deborah Bloom WASHINGTON/SEATTLE (Reuters) - The U.S.

Reuters March 12, 2020 04:05:15 IST
U.S. considers restrictions on European travellers as coronavirus hits home

US considers restrictions on European travellers as coronavirus hits home

By Alexandra Alper and Deborah Bloom

WASHINGTON/SEATTLE (Reuters) - The U.S. government is likely to discourage Americans from taking trips to Europe and might restrict people entering the United States from the continent to fight coronavirus, as a top health official warned on Wednesday the U.S. outbreak will get worse.

President Donald Trump vowed he would use all government resources necessary to combat the virus, which has killed 32 people in America and ravaged Italy, China and other countries.

Wall Street stocks plunged due to worry about coronavirus, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average <.DJI> confirming a bear market for the first time in over a decade.

The market concern was compounded by a Reuters report that the White House has ordered federal health officials to treat top-level coronavirus meetings as classified.

"I am fully prepared to use the full power of the Federal Government to deal with our current challenge of the CoronaVirus!" Trump wrote on Twitter.

Trump, who has downplayed the risks from coronavirus, said he would address economics and healthcare in remarks at around 9 p.m. EDT (0100 GMT).

Sources familiar with the matter said the White House was considering issuing advisories against Americans' visiting Europe as well as potential new restrictions on travellers from some European nations entering the country.

The Trump administration is exploring cutting taxes to protect the economy, Democratic presidential candidates are cancelling events and New York's governor said the federal government had "fallen down on the job."

In Washington state, Governor Jay Inslee prohibited gatherings of over 250 people in three Seattle-area counties and said he may soon close all schools as the state suffered the deadliest outbreak in the United States.

The World Health Organization described the coronavirus, which causes a respiratory illness that can be fatal, as a pandemic on Wednesday for the first time.

Anthony Fauci, head of infectious diseases at the National Institutes of Health, told a congressional hearing that the outbreak would only get worse in the United States.

"We will see more cases and things will get worse than they are now," Fauci told the House of Representatives Oversight Committee.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the Trump administration was looking into steps that could put hundreds of billions of dollars into the U.S. economy to shield it from a slowdown brought on by the disruption from coronavirus.

The White House is examining payroll tax relief measures, loan guarantees, reimbursing workers for lost pay, aid to small and mid-sized businesses and support for airlines, hotels and other travel businesses, Mnuchin said.

"Whatever we do, kind of in the next 48 hours, that's just the first step. ... And I think there's big bipartisan support," Mnuchin told a House committee.

Health Secretary Alex Azar said federal leaders were working with local officials in the hardest-hit states, saying "strong mitigation steps" could help buy valuable time.

The governor of New York, however, said federal officials had left states scrambling to act on their own, including ramping up testing for the highly contagious respiratory illness.

"We can't wait for the federal government because it's not going to happen," Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, told MSNBC. "The federal government has just fallen down on the job."

New York and Washington state are struggling to make testing for the virus widely available, with local officials estimating it could take weeks to reach peak testing capacity.

The number of U.S. coronavirus cases has risen steadily and has affected almost three-quarters of U.S. states. More than 1,100 cases and 32 deaths have been reported, according to Johns Hopkins University.

DISRUPTIONS TO DAILY LIFE

Daily life in the United States has been increasingly disrupted, with concerts and conferences cancelled and universities telling students to stay home and take classes online.

Public gatherings have been suspended in a coronavirus "hot zone" in New Rochelle, a New York City suburb.

Democratic presidential contenders Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders were reassessing how to campaign in the face of the spreading outbreak.

The two candidates cancelled rallies on Tuesday, and Biden's campaign scrapped a Thursday event in Florida, which holds a primary vote next week to help nominate a Democratic challenger to Trump in November.

The State Department has decided to suspend non-essential travel for its staff because of coronavirus, three sources familiar with the matter said.

(Additional reporting by Susan Heavey, David Lawder, Andrea Shalal, and Richard Cowan in Washington and Maria Caspani and Michael Erman in New York; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Rosalba O'Brien, Lisa Shumaker and Cynthia Osterman)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

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