In response to the coronavirus outbreak, restrictions on European travel will be extended to Britain and Ireland on Monday – and President Donald Trump said today that limits on travel from domestic hotspots such as the Seattle area were under consideration as well.
During a White House briefing on the administration’s response to the outbreak, Trump was asked whether he was thinking about domestic travel limitations.
“Specifically from certain areas, yes, we are,” the president replied. “We’re working with the states, and we are considering other restrictions.”
Seattle and the surrounding area in King County have been among the hottest hotspots in the early phases of the U.S. epidemic. As of Friday, King County accounted for about a quarter of the nation’s confirmed coronavirus cases, and nearly two-thirds of deaths.
Tara Lee, communications director for Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, said the topic of domestic travel restrictions hasn’t come up.
“The governor and our staff have been in regular conversation with VP [Mike] Pence and his team, and this has not been raised,” Lee told GeekWire in an email. “The vice president has repeatedly said, and the governor has agreed, that we are working well together.”
The limits on travel from Britain and Ireland, which are due to go into effect at midnight ET Monday, mirror a previously announced 30-day restriction on travel from other European countries. U.S. residents will be able to return home, but will face screening and a 14-day quarantine requirement when they arrive.
The restrictions were expanded because of a significant rise in infections in Britain.
When a reporter noted that the Pentagon has halted most domestic travel for its personnel and family members through May 11 to slow the outbreak, Trump made a strong pitch for Americans to stay put.
“If you don’t have to travel, I wouldn’t do it,” he said.
Among other developments from the briefing:
- Trump praised the House’s bipartisan vote to approve a new package of measures to respond to the outbreak’s effects, including free virus testing, funding for paid leave, and enhancements to unemployment and emergency assistance programs. The measure is expected to win Senate approval and the president’s signature next week.
- Most outbound cruise trips will be suspended for 30 days.
- Details about a public-private partnership to facilitate coronavirus testing will be announced at 5 p.m. ET (2 p.m. PT) on Sunday. There’s been some confusion over the status of an online screening website that’s being developed by Verily, Alphabet’s life sciences subsidiary, but Pence said the website was due to go online on Monday. He confirmed that the site would initially focus only on the Bay Area.
- Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, acknowledged it may be possible to spread coronavirus without being aware that you have it. She noted that people under 20 are less likely to report serious symptoms. “Are they a group that are potentially asymptomatic and spreading the virus?” she asked. If so, that could have a big impact on strategies for testing and surveillance.
- The president, other federal officials and journalists all had their temperatures checked when they entered the briefing room, and Trump said he was trying to break his habit of shaking hands. “We’re all getting out of that,” he said. “Shaking hands is not a great thing to be doing now, I agree.”