Trump suspends travel from Europe to US in coronavirus crisis
About 4,500 people have died so far worldwide
WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump on Wednesday suspended travel from Europe to the United States for 30 days in a "tough" new effort to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic that has sparked a run on the stock market and is rapidly multiplying.
The ban will not include travellers from the United Kingdom, which recently left the European Union, Trump said.
In a primetime address from the Oval Office to a worried nation, Trump sought to rebuff critics who say his leadership has been lacking during the crisis, insisting that "the virus will not have a chance."
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"This is the most aggressive and comprehensive effort to confront a foreign virus in modern history," he said.
He announced a series of measures designed to ease the financial burden for people having to take weeks off from work while on quarantine.
But his most far-reaching announcement was the halt on European travel.
Trump said this would go into effect from "midnight Friday."
"I'm confident that by... continuing to take these tough measures we will significantly reduce the threat to our citizens and we'll ultimately and expeditiously defeat this virus," he said.
Trump called on elderly people to avoid non-essential travel within the United States. Shortly after, the White House said Trump, 73, would be cancelling a trip to Nevada and Colorado on Thursday out of "caution."
In his address, Trump put a harsh accent on Europe's role in the spread of the virus, which began in China and has now travelled around much of the world, bringing sometimes fatal flu-like symptoms.
"The European Union failed to take the same precautions and restrict travel from China and other hotspots" as the United States, Trump said.
"As a result a large number of new clusters in the United States were seeded by travellers from Europe."
About 4,500 people have died so far worldwide. As of Wednesday, there were more than 1,100 confirmed infections in the United States and 32 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
Numbers are expected to skyrocket in the United States once more testing is done.
Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said earlier Wednesday that COVID-19 is estimated to be 10 times more deadly than flu and that without aggressive containment and mitigation, "many millions" could potentially contract the virus.
"The bottom line: it's going to get worse," Fauci said.
Trump announced short-term tax deferments and called on Congress to enact "immediate payroll tax relief."
He also said he was asking for another $50 billion in funding for small business loans to help those stricken by the economic disruption.
However, there was no declaration of a national emergency which would allow the government access instantly to extra funding.
It was not clear whether Trump's plans would calm markets, which have panicked over the mounting impact on supply lines, consumer demand and investor flight to safety.
"This is not a financial crisis," Trump said. "This is just a temporary moment of time that we will overcome together as a nation."
Multiple cultural and sporting events have been cancelled across the United States, schools and universities are closing, and companies are scrambling to face the probability of sending many employees home on sick leave or self-quarantine.
Even the US presidential election faces disruption, with Democratic candidates Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders cancelling rallies and questions mounting over the future of Trump's own usually frequent rallies.
For Trump, steadying market jitters is a must if he is to maintain his reelection message of delivering a booming economy.
At a White House meeting with US bank leaders, Trump said "we'll be doing a lot of additional work with small businesses..., many billions of dollars."
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said earlier that the White House was "looking at providing substantial relief to certain taxpayers and small businesses who will be able to get extensions on their taxes."
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"We think we can provide over $200 billion of liquidity into the economy by delaying certain tax payments," he said.
Democratic leaders are cool on the idea of tax cuts and made a competing proposal for compensating workers' lost wages and sick leave, as well as providing loan forgiveness for individuals.
The Democratic proposal also called for disaster loans and grants for small businesses, emergency housing assistance, and loosened requirements for food assistance including continuing to serve meals to children even if schools are closed.