The White House announced Saturday that its sweeping travel restrictions will be expanded to include the United Kingdom and Ireland, as countries around the globe struggled to intensify efforts to combat the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
The United States is limiting travel from 28 nations across Europe, though U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents are exempted. The announcement came as other countries sought to lock down their borders to contain the pandemic that surged across Asia and now claims Europe as the latest epicenter.
The number of confirmed cases climbed past 2,200 in the United States, with more than 50 dead, and health officials scrambled to ramp up testing that they expect will yield thousands of more infections. A day after he declared a national emergency, a designation that could free up $50 billion to fight the outbreak, President Donald Trump said the administration is considering limiting domestic travel.
“If you don’t have to travel, I wouldn’t do it,” said Trump, who made a surprise announcement Saturday that he was tested for the novel coronavirus Friday night. On Saturday evening, his physician said the test came back negative.
Health officials continued to warn Saturday that the worst is yet to come and urged hospitals to prepare for waves of sick patients that could overwhelm the nation’s health-care system.
“We have not reached a peak,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said during a news conference. “We will see more cases, and we will see more suffering and death, predominantly . . . among the vulnerables in our society.”
One stunning new projection from the Kaiser Family Foundation is that 41 percent of U.S. adults – more than 105 million people – have a “higher risk of developing serious illness” if infected with the coronavirus because of their age or underlying health conditions.
As cases decline in China, the origin of the outbreak, countries in Europe are emerging as the world’s new hot spots, especially Italy and Spain.
Italy announced that health officials confirmed nearly 3,500 new cases in 24 hours, a 20 percent increase from Friday and that nation’s largest daily increase yet. Italy has more than 21,000 confirmed cases, despite the fact that the country has been in a lockdown since Monday.
Spain announced 1,500 new cases Saturday, and the government ordered all 47 million residents to stay in their homes except to buy essential goods or go to work, medical appointments and banks. Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez told the nation in a televised address that the restrictions will remain in place for an initial 15-day period but could be extended. The move was so abrupt that several airplanes en route from England turned around midflight to avoid landing in the country.
In Russia, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said the nation had closed its land border with Poland and Norway after already closing its border with China. Poland, Denmark and the Czech Republic also sought to seal off their borders, and France ordered all nonessential businesses to close, including restaurants and cafes.
The U.K. and Ireland were not included in the initial travel restrictions from Europe that Trump announced Wednesday. But since then, both have seen an increase of cases, and Britain’s death toll nearly doubled Saturday, to 21. The White House said the travel restrictions will go into place at midnight Monday. They do not cover cargo shipments.
The effectiveness of such measures continues to be debated, however, and they run counter to the World Health Organization’s recommendations. Critics say they can cause some people to travel more surreptitiously, divert vital resources and hamper the international cooperation needed to fight the virus.
“Travel restrictions can cause more harm than good,” World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has stressed.
Additional travel restrictions will further hit the airline industry, which is facing enormous losses because of the pandemic. White House officials are considering offering low-interest loans or tax deferrals to airlines to help them survive the downturn.
In yet another sign that virtually no facet of society – from museums to sporting events to religious services – will go unscathed, restaurants across France braced for their last meals and customers as part of the government’s closure order. For a country that thrives on food, wine and leisurely afternoons spent alfresco at sidewalk cafes, the government acknowledged it was an extreme measure. But officials said they had no choice because too many people appeared to be ignoring earlier advice about social distancing and staying home.
Israel banned all gatherings of more than 10 people. The United Arab Emirates said it will stop issuing visas to all foreigners except diplomats. And amid the season of Lent, one of the most significant holy seasons for Christians, the Catholic Archdiocese of New York announced it was canceling all Masses beginning Sunday.
Across the United States, health officials moved to limit visits to nursing homes because of their extremely vulnerable population. During the news conference Saturday, Vice President Mike Pence urged people to “look after seniors with serious underlying health conditions and make sure that every American around them is practicing the best kind of hygiene, the best kind of measures to ensure that they’re not exposed.”
The new report by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that although “the majority of people who become infected are expected to be asymptomatic or recover without needing special treatment,” there is an “increasing concern for adults who have a higher risk of developing serious illness if they are infected.” Prime among them: individuals 60 or older as well as those with underlying health conditions such as heart and lung disease, cancer and diabetes.
U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams on Saturday urged hospitals to “PLEASE CONSIDER STOPPING ELECTIVE SURGERIES,” which he said could bring potential cases of the virus into health-care facilities while occupying precious resources and space needed to treat people with the crisis.
The day began with a rare showing of bipartisanship in Congress, when House Republicans and Democrats overwhelmingly passed a bill that would allocate billions of dollars for paid sick leave, unemployment insurance, free testing and other steps to help the country grapple with the virus.
Hours after the bill passed the House, 363 to 40, Trump, who on Friday had criticized congressional Democrats for not doing enough on the bill, praised the uncommon demonstration of unity.
“Good teamwork between Republicans & Democrats as the House passes the big CoronaVirus Relief Bill,” he tweeted. “People really pulled together. Nice to see!”
The bill now moves to the Senate, which is expected to pass it in coming days.
The pandemic’s toll continues to reverberate.
New York, which has been hit particularly hard by the virus, reported its first death, as did Virginia and Louisiana. The Pentagon announced that 10 servicemembers had tested positive for the virus along with one Defense Department civilian and two contractors.
Georgia became the second state, after Louisiana, to delay its presidential primary for at least two months. Supermarket chains shortened their hours to allow them to sanitize their stores and restock inventories: Harris Teeter said it will close its stores at 9 every night; Publix said it will close its stores daily at 8 p.m.
Apple said it will close stores globally, including more than 250 in the United States, while simultaneously reopening stores in China that had been shuttered for weeks.
“I think it’s fine if they do it, and I think it’s frankly, it’s good that they do it. I think what Apple did is fine,” Trump said. “And we want to keep people away for just a little while, just keep them away.”
That appeared to mark a shift from Trump’s tone earlier in the crisis, when he batted away questions about broad economic disruption by saying that the U.S. economy is the world’s mightiest.