WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump announced that a ban on travelers to the United States from Europe would be in place for the next 30 days, in an attempt to stem the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
Calling coronavirus a “foreign virus,” Trump attacked Europe for not taking the same actions to control the disease that he had. “As a result” of Europe’s inaction, Trump said, “a large number of clusters” of coronavirus “were seeded by travelers from Europe.”
Trump also announced that he would ask Congress for legislative action to provide payroll tax relief, as well as other measures for several groups impacted by the virus.
In addition to legislation, Trump said he would instruct the Small Business Administration to “provide capital and liquidity” to small businesses.
Trump said the ban would apply only to countries in the Schengen economic and travel zone, and that the United Kingdom and Ireland would be exempted. He also later clarified in a tweet that cargo and goods would not be affected by the ban.
The European Commission did not immediately have a comment on Trump’s announcement.
U.S. stock futures fell sharply as Trump concluded his speech with Dow Jones Industrial Average futures trading more than 600 points lower. Those losses would add to the 30-stock average’s steep decline on Wednesday that put it more than 20% below its record high from just last month.
New developments about the disease quickly overtook the president’s message. Moments after Trump concluded his address, superstar actor Tom Hanks announced he and his wife, Rita Wilson, had tested positive for coronavirus. The NBA on Wednesday night announced it would suspend its season until further notice after a Utah Jazz player tested positive for the virus.
Wednesday’s market losses were driven in part by a new declaration by the World Health Organization that coronavirus had reached pandemic levels.
Yet as the virus increasingly spreads through the United States by community transmission, it is not at all clear that travel restrictions can significantly impact the spread.
Stringent travel restrictions imposed on inbound flights from China to contain the coronavirus outbreak become “irrelevant” in a global pandemic, because “you can’t keep out the entire world,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street” last month.
“When it was focused only on China, we had a period of time, temporary, that we could do a travel restriction that prevented cases from coming into the U.S.,” Fauci said. “When you have multiple countries involved, it’s very difficult to do; in fact, it’s almost impossible.”
More than 1,200 cases have been diagnosed in the United States, while there are at least 118,000 cases worldwide.
As markets tumbled Wednesday afternoon, Trump met with representatives of the nation’s biggest banks to discuss economic responses to the epidemic. The president signaled that he is open to a wide range of stimulus proposals, but did not unveil any new plans.
The White House has struggled to execute a cohesive plan to stop the spread of the virus. The president has careened back and forth between insisting the coronavirus is no worse than a common flu and demanding that Congress pass drastic financial relief, including a proposed payroll tax holiday.
And one of Trump’s marquis proposals Wednesday night, a payroll tax holiday, is likely to face significant pushback in Congress, particularly in the Democrat-controlled house. Senate Democrats earlier Wednesday unveiled more than a dozen “critical measures” people-focused initiatives” like federal funding for local communities and emergency unemployment insurance. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland has called the idea a “non-starter.”
On Wall Street, the coronavirus-induced sell-off reached new levels as investors grappled with the rapid spread of the virus as well as uncertainty around a fiscal response to curb slower economic growth from the outbreak.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average tumbled 1,464.94 points, or 5.9%, to close at 23,553.22. The 30-stock average closed in a bear market, down more than 20% below the record close set only last month. Wednesday’s close likewise put an end to a market expansion that started in 2009 amid the financial crisis.
Follow all the latest COVID-19 developments on CNBC’s live blog.
— CNBC’s Fred Imbert, Lauren Hirsch and Dawn Kopecki contributed reporting from New Jersey and New York.