Several major events across the US have also been postponed or cancelled, including the NBA season after a player tests positive.
In a televised address from the Oval Office, President Donald Trump has announced that all travel by foreigners from Europe to the United States would be suspended from midnight Friday for the next 30 days.
More specifically, it will apply to anyone who’s been in the European Union’s Schengen border-free area within 14 days prior to arriving in the US. This means the restrictions will not apply to those arriving from the UK despite more than 450 cases and eight deaths being confirmed.
Trump also said the travel suspension would apply to trade and cargo coming from Europe to the US, though the White House later walked the restrictions on cargo back, attributing it to a misreading of the teleprompter.
Why is the US doing this?
The restrictions are in response to the World Health Organisation (WHO) officially declaring the Covid-19 outbreak as a pandemic this morning, which is defined as a disease spreading in multiple countries at the same time. Trump said the European Union had “failed to take the same precautions” as the US in fighting the virus and that he was taking “strong but necessary” actions to keep new cases from entering the US. So far, there have been 38 coronavirus-related deaths in the US with more than 1,100 cases confirmed.
“We’ve been in frequent contact with our allies and we’re marshalling the full power of the federal government and private sector to protect the American people,” said Trump. “This is the most aggressive and comprehensive effort to confront a foreign virus in modern history. I’m confident that in continuing to take these tough measures we will significantly reduce the threat to our citizens.”
But why is it targeting Europe?
There’s been a steep rise in cases across the continent with the number of confirmed infections jumping by almost a quarter in the last two days to reach more than 22,000.
It’s especially bad in Italy where the whole country has practically been put in lockdown. Italian PM Giuseppe Conte has ordered all businesses other than food shops and pharmacies to close as infections and deaths continue to soar. As of writing, Covid-19 has killed more 800 people and infected more than 12,000 in Italy making it the worst-hit country outside of China where the spread began.
Meanwhile, France has almost 2,300 infections, Spain has almost 2,200 infections, and Germany around 1,600. Germany recently confirmed its third coronavirus-related death. Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned that up to 70% of Germany’s population could become infected.
Denmark, which has more than 500 cases, is set to close all schools and universities from Friday. And despite having just 26 confirmed cases, Poland also announced it would be closing all schools, universities, cinemas, theatres and museums for two weeks as a preventative measure.
What other measures are being taken in the US to prevent the spread?
In Washington state – a focal point of the outbreak – large gatherings have been banned in several counties, with San Francisco quickly following suit. And in New Rochelle just north of New York City where one outbreak is believed to have originated, troops have been deployed with the National Guard delivering food to those who’ve been told to self-isolate.
Several major events in the country have also been cancelled or postponed, including SXSW, Coachella, E3, and a number of St Patrick’s Day parades.
The NBA has also announced that the season has been suspended indefinitely. Three days ago, the Utah Jazz NBA team followed a Covid-19 response plan by shifting media interviews from the court to a separate room. Jazz centre Rudy Gobert joked about the situation by touching all of the microphones and recorders on the table in front of him as he left the room. The Jazz were set to play Steven Adams’ OKC Thunder in Oklahoma, but players walked off the court amid news that Gobert was ill. Moments later it was announced that Gobert had tested positive for Covid-19 and all players were put in quarantine in the OKC arena where they will be tested tonight.
How has the travel industry reacted?
A travel industry veteran told The Spinoff that they had “never heard of anything” like the US-Europe travel ban. “It’s bigger than two Gulf wars, bigger than Sars. Even with September 11, planes were only out of action for a few days.”
Any updates on the situation here in New Zealand?
For the fifth consecutive day, there have been no new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand. In an update this afternoon, director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said 100 tests for Covid-19 were administered yesterday, all negative. Currently, they’re able to test 500 people a day but have the ability to scale further. So far there have been no reports of non-compliance on self-isolation.
He also said that those who were first hospitalised are now recovering at home while those in self-isolation have been getting daily phone calls to monitor them. Bloomfield also noted that Europe and the US were the areas of “most interest”.
New Zealand currently has five confirmed cases of Covid-19. For health advice and information, contact the Healthline team (for free) on 0800 358 5453.
Will New Zealand start banning travel from entire countries?
Unlikely. Jacinda Ardern did, however, tell reporters, following Trump’s appearance: “I expect that we will see further border restrictions in New Zealand.”
She said: “We are seeing outbreaks within that primary hotspot where we already have border controls – Italy. Now of course we are seeing outbreaks in the United States. We need to factor all of that in in the continual advice we are getting on our border restrictions.”