President Donald Trump says the US will suspend all travel from Europe, excluding Britain, starting on Friday for 30 days amid the coronavirus outbreak.
“To keep new cases from entering our shores, we will be suspending all travel from Europe to the United States for the next 30 days,” Mr Trump said in a televised address on Thursday (ADST).
“The new rules will go into effect Friday at midnight,” he added.
Mr Trump described the sweeping measures as “strong but necessary” to curb the COVID-19 outbreak.
He made the announcement in an Oval Office address to Americans, in which he blamed the European Union for not acting quickly enough to address the novel coronavirus and saying US clusters were “seeded” by European travellers.
Mr Trump said the ban won’t apply to Britain, the US would monitor the situation to determine if travel could be reopened earlier.
He said “we are marshalling the full power” of the government and private sector to protect the American people.
Mr Trump’s speech came as as Washington raced to confront a viral pandemic that is roiling global financial markets and disrupting the daily lives of Americans.
Communities across the US have cancelled public events, universities have halted in-person classes, and families are grappling with disruptions to public schools.
Mr Trump said he would also direct agencies to provide unspecified financial relief “for workers who are ill, quarantined or caring for others due to coronavirus,” and asked Congress to take action to extend it.
He said the US would defer tax payments for some individual and businesses for three months to lessen the impacts of the virus outbreak.
He said the Small Business Administration would 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.”
Mr Trump reiterated his call on Congress to pass a cut to the federal payroll tax in order to stimulate the economy.
The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the US has topped 1000 in the US, as the World Health Organisation finally declared the global crisis a pandemic.
As US government officials warned the outbreak would only get worse, the Capitol was set to halt public tours 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 coronavirus was “10 times more lethal than the seasonal flu”.
Elsewhere, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi unveiled an economic assistance plan that was gaining bipartisan backing. Central to the package is free coronavirus testing and emergency funding to reimburse lost wages for those who self-quarantine, miss work or lose jobs in the outbreak.
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.