Coronavirus pandemic: US extends travel ban to UK and Ireland, mulls restrictions within country; Trump awaiting result after taking COVID-19 test

Washington: President Donald Trump announced Saturday that the United States will broaden its European travel ban, adding the United Kingdom and Ireland to its list, and was considering imposing restrictions on travel within the US to areas hit hard by the coronavirus spread.

Under the restrictions on European travel, American citizens, green card holders and others are still allowed to return home to the US, but will be funneled to 13 airports and be subjected to health screenings and quarantine orders.

“If you don't have to travel, I wouldn't do it," Trump said.

 Coronavirus pandemic: US extends travel ban to UK and Ireland, mulls restrictions within country; Trump awaiting result after taking COVID-19 test

File image of US president Donald Trump. AP

The new restrictions came as in Britain, the death toll nearly doubled from the day before to 21, and the number of people infected rose to over 1,100 from about 800 the previous day. In Ireland there were 90 confirmed cases and one death by Friday. The Irish government hasn't released any updated figures on Saturday.

The US announced earlier this week a 30-day ban on flights covered only by the 26-nation Schengen area, the European Union’s border-free travel zone, that does not include Britain or Ireland.

The move comes hours after the House approved legislation to provide direct relief to Americans suffering physically, financially and emotionally from the coronavirus pandemic. That followed Trump's declaration of a national emergency, freeing up money and resources to fight it, and threw his support behind the congressional aid package.

Trump's emergency declaration unleashed as much as $50 billion for state and local governments to respond to the crisis.

Trump also announced a range of executive actions, including a new public-private partnership to expand coronavirus testing capabilities with drive-through locations, as Washington tries to subdue the virus whose spread is roiling markets, shuttering institutions and disrupting the lives of everyday Americans.

But he asserted “I don't take responsibility at all" for the slow rollout of testing.

The hard-fought aid package will provide free testing, sick pay for workers, enhanced unemployment benefits and bolstered food programs.

The House passed the bill after midnight on a bipartisan vote, 363-40. It now goes to the Senate..

Trump tweeted his approval, all but ensuring that wary Republicans would join with a robust vote. “Good teamwork between Republicans & Democrats as the House passes the big CoronaVirus Relief Bill," he tweeted Saturday. "People really pulled together. Nice to see!”

Trump's tweet of approval instilled fresh energy in the measure, all but ensuring that wary Republicans would join with a robust vote.

The crush of activity capped a tumultuous week in Washington as the fast-moving virus left ordinary Americans suddenly navigating self-quarantines, school closures and a changed way of life.

Trump took a number of other actions to bolster energy markets, ease the financial burden for Americans with student loans and give medical professionals additional flexibility in treating patients during the public health crisis.

Central to the aid package from Congress, which builds on an emergency $8.3 billion measure approved earlier, are the free testing, sick pay and family leave provisions.

Providing sick pay for workers is a crucial element of federal efforts to stop the rapid spread of the infection. Officials warn that the nation’s healthcare system could quickly become overwhelmed with gravely sick patients, as suddenly happened in Italy, one of the countries hardest hit by the virus.

The ability to ensure paychecks will keep flowing — for people self-quarantining or caring for others — can help assure Americans they will not fall into financial hardship. The legislation also offers three months of paid family and medical leave. Small and mid-sized employers will be reimbursed through tax credits.

Voting in the Senate is not yet set, with senators out of town for the weekend. But Senate Leader Mitch McConnell canceled a planned recess week and senators were scheduled to return Monday. He said he expects most senators will want to “act swiftly.”

Both Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and Pelosi promised a third coronavirus package will follow soon, with more aggressive steps to boost the U.S. economy, which economists fear has already slipped into recession.

The financial markets closed on an upswing after one of the worst nosedives since 1987.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The vast majority of people recover. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to be over it.

Trump on Friday also told people to expect the imminent rollout of a web site "facilitated” by Google that would guide users through a series of questions to determine whether they should be screened for the virus. If testing is recommended, users would be directed to a local testing location, which could include parking lots at Walmart, Target, Walgreens and other chains.

“It's going to be very quickly done, unlike websites of the past," Trump said in a thinly veiled dig at the Obama administration's disastrous rollout in 2013 of its online health care marketplace.

But how quickly is in question. Google said the website, from its life science division Verily, is still “in the early stages of development." Verily first plans to roll out testing out in the Bay Area of San Francisco, with the hope of expanding more broadly over time, the company said in a statement.

The Pentagon and State Department announced new guidance aimed at limiting movement of its personnel and promoting social distancing in hopes of reducing the impact of the pandemic on the agencies.

Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist said the department is “halting all domestic travel, including Permanent Change of Station and Temporary Duty" from Monday until May 11. The travel restrictions also apply to military civilian employees.

The State Department announced it has begun rotational and telework schedules and issued general guidance calling on domestic and overseas personnel to engage in “mission critical” travel only.

Trump takes virus test, awaiting results

After days of resistance, Trump said Saturday that he was tested for the coronavirus as the White House stepped up precautions after his direct and indirect exposures to COVID-19.

Trump also told reporters at a White House briefing that he had his temperature taken before stepping into the room and it was “totally normal.”

Trump had held out on testing for days, despite his interactions with at least three people who have since tested positive. Trump had said Friday that he would probably take the test at some point, but the White House doctor said as recently as Friday night that no test was called for because he wasn't exhibiting symptoms.

But the president said he'd gone ahead with it after repeated questions from reporters at a news conference Friday.

On Saturday, the White House announced that it is now conducting temperature checks on anyone who is in close contact with Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, including reporters attending the Saturday White House briefing.

The move is being taken as a precaution in response to the coronavirus outbreak, said Judd Deere, a White House spokesman.

Trump has had multiple direct and indirect contacts with people who have tested positive for the pandemic virus last weekend at his Mar-a-Lago club on Florida. On Friday, he declared a state of emergency as schools and workplaces across the country shuttered, flights canceled and Americans braced for war against the health threat.

The Brazilian Embassy in Washington said late Friday that the country's chargé d'affaires, Nestor Forster, tested positive after sitting at Trump's dinner table. So, too, have a top aide to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and a person who attended a fundraiser Sunday with Trump, according to two Republican officials who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss private health matters.

Trump has been known to flout public health advice — and was eagerly shaking hands during an event Friday. On Saturday, he said that he continued to do so out of habit.

A representative from the White House physician's office took the temperature of members of the media who were at the White House on Saturday, going around and putting the device to their heads. A reporter with a suspected elevated temperature was not allowed in.

Pence's spokeswoman, Katie Miller, tweeted that according to the White House Medical Unit, the reporter's temperature was taken three times over 15 minutes all three registered above the 100.4-degree guidelines.

Public health officials say that people with a cough and elevated temperatures of 100.4 degrees or higher are deemed concerning.

Updated Date: Mar 14, 2020 23:36:26 IST



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