WASHINGTON, March 12, 2020 — In a rare address from the Oval Office, President Donald Trump announced a 30-day suspension of foreign travel from Europe in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus – increasing his administration’s response after receiving criticism for downplaying the crisis.
Trump criticized the European Union failed to take similar precautions as the United States implemented to contain the outbreak, leading him to temporarily suspend travel between the two continents. The restrictions do not apply to the United Kingdom, where the total cases has reached 400 on Wednesday.
Trump speech all about allegedly working on curbing spread of virus
“We made a life-saving move with early action on China, now we must take the same action with Europe,” Trump said in an 11-minute televised address, referencing his February decision to restrict travel from China, where the virus began. “Smart action today will prevent the spread of the virus tomorrow.”
The rare address marked a dramatic shift in messaging for Trump, who spent weeks vowing that the coronavirus would die off quickly, and promised that a vaccine was coming quickly and insisting it was similar to the average seasonal flu.
Trump chose as his backdrop the Oval Office, a location usually used to deliver somber or momentous news. It’s the location John F. Kennedy chose to tell the nation about the Cuban Missile, the place Ronald Reagan picked to discuss the Challenger explosion and the setting for George W. Bush to calm a nation on September 11, 2001.
This time, Trump blamed travelers from Europe for bringing coronavirus to the U.S. “A number of new clusters in the United States were seeded by travelers from Europe,” he said. And his speech did still generate some confusion.
Travel restriction does not bar all travelers from Europe
After Trump finished his remarks, the Department of Homeland Security clarified that the new order would not bar all travelers from Europe, just foreign nationals traveling from Europe to the U.S. The order also doesn’t prohibit the travel of legal permanent residents and the immediate family members of U.S. citizens.
Trump also addressed some expected economic measures during his speech, saying he would “soon be taking an emergency action” to provide financial cushion to business owners and individuals hit by the coronavirus. He said the Small Business Administration would provide emergency capital to impacted companies, and vowed to defer tax payments for certain entities that have been affected by the virus.
Congress faced with a possible payroll tax cut
The president then asked Congress to include a paid sick-leave mandate and payroll tax cut in a stimulus package that is currently being ironed out on Capitol Hill. While lawmakers have coalesced around the sick-leave proposal, the payroll tax cut has been a harder sell.
“This is not a financial crisis, this is just a temporary moment of time that we will overcome as a nation and as a world,” Trump said, adding that the U.S. economy is well-positioned to withstand the impacts of the virus because “our banks and financial institutions are fully capitalized and incredibly strong.”
Trump’s address came in a solemn tone
Overall, Trump did adopt a more solemn tone during his address, a change for a president who, as recently as Monday, compared the rapidly-spreading virus to the common flu and tweeted that “nothing is shut down, life and the economy go on.”
The president’s warning came hours after two U.S. officials testified on Capitol Hill that the worst is yet to come, and suggested that Americans should brace for further disruptions to their daily lives such as school closures, travel bans and cancellations of large gatherings.
Coronavirus continues to spread throughout Europe
In two surprising developments Wednesday night, the National Basketball Association suspended all games until further notice after one player tested positive for the coronavirus, and actor Tom Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson announced they had both contracted the virus.
In Europe, Italy has suffered the most with over 10,000 cases. The country suspended most of its commercial activity on Monday as it essentially asked its population to shelter in place. Elsewhere in Europe, France, Spain and Germany all have over 1,000 cases. China remains the hardest hit, with over 80,000 cases and upwards of 3,000 deaths. South Korea and Iran have also seen massive outbreaks, and Trump placed travel restrictions on both countries.