Vice President Mike Pence said Saturday that new travel bans would be implemented on the United Kingdom and Ireland as the novel coronavirus pandemic spreads.
At a White House press conference with President Trump, the vice president said the ban would take effect from midnight Monday, but that U.S. citizens, permanent residents and their families would be allowed to return to the country through 13 airports where the Department of Homeland Security has established enhanced entry screening capabilities. Pence also encouraged individuals returning from those countries to self-quarantine for two weeks.
The decision came after the U.S. restricted travel from Europe earlier this week in the wake of growing coronavirus outbreaks in several major European countries. Last week, the World Health Organization declared Europe the new “epicenter” of the coronavirus epidemic.
By Saturday, more than 145,000 infections and over 5,400 deaths had been recorded worldwide. The United States has confirmed at least 2,112 cases and 47 deaths, according to the Associated Press.
Travel to the U.S. will now be restricted from China, Iran and 28 European countries including the U.K. Ireland, Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.
The United Kingdom had initially been spared when Trump announced in a Wednesday evening address that he would be banning European travel. However, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been criticized at home for his government’s slow response to the coronavirus. He initially balked at the kind of mass closures and restrictions that many other European countries have taken, though the government indicated that it would likely ban mass gatherings beginning next week.
Other European countries have taken more serious steps to attempt to slow the spread of the virus. Both Spain and Italy have announced national lockdowns of businesses and restricted most travel inside their countries, while at least ten countries have begun enforcing border closures.
“We’re using the full power of the government to defeat the virus,” Trump said on Saturday.
House lawmakers approved legislation to counter the escalating coronavirus outbreak early on Saturday morning, capping two days of negotiations between Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and the Trump administration. The bill provides expanded paid sick leave and unemployment insurance for those dealing with the virus, offers free testing for all, and increases Medicaid funding for local health care systems.
While Republicans initially had misgivings with proposals in the bill, GOP leaders claimed credit for forcing changes, and ultimately an overwhelming number in both parties voted in favor of the package.