Video report by ITV News Washington Correspondent Robert Moore
President Donald Trump has announced he is suspending all travel between the United States and Europe – excluding the UK and Ireland – for 30 days starting on Friday as he seeks to minimise the impact of coronavirus.
Mr Trump made the announcement in an Oval Office address to the nation, blaming the European Union for not acting quickly enough to address the outbreak of the virus and saying US clusters were “seeded” by European travellers.
“We made a lifesaving move with early action on China,” Mr Trump said. “Now we must take the same action with Europe.”
Mr Trump said the restrictions would not apply to the UK. On Thursday during a meeting with Irish premier Leo Varadkar at the Oval Office,President Trump said one of the reasons the UK was not included in the travel ban was the strength of its borders.
"They don't have very much infection at this point and hopefully they will keep it that way," he said of the UK.
Mr Trump hoped the pandemic would "work out well for everyone", but added there was reason to briefly restrict some movement between parts of the world.
"It is a world problem and we do need separation in terms of you have some areas that are very heavily infected and you have some areas that are not.
"We do need separation for a little period of time."
The Taoiseach said one of the reasons Ireland was exempted from the ban was the presence of US border security in Ireland, at Dublin airport.
"I was through it myself yesterday. They were asking the right questions."
Mr Varadkar is in America to meet Mr Trump as part of what should be the annual bipartisan St Patrick's Day celebrations, although this year the White House reception and parade have been cancelled.
Earlier on Thursday, Mr Varadkar announced radical measures to curtail the spread of coronavirus following advice in a letter from health experts.
The EU has made its disapproval of Mr Trump’s action clear.
"The coronavirus is a global crisis, not limited to any continent and it requires cooperation rather than unilateral action," the European Commission said.
"The European Union disapproves of the fact that the US decision to impose a travel ban was taken unilaterally and without consultation.
"The European Union is taking strong action to limit the spread of the virus."
The announcement comes as the World Health Organization (WHO) has labelled the outbreak a 'pandemic'.
Following the WHO and President Trump's announcements, the FTSE-100 index fell five percent, opening at 5876.52 on Thursday morning, deepening economic worries surrounding Covid-19.
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Homeland Security officials later clarified the new travel restrictions would only apply to most foreign nationals who had been in the “Schengen Area” at any point for 14 days prior to their scheduled arrival to the United States. The area includes Italy, German, Greece, Austria, Belgium and others.
It doesn’t apply to legal permanent residents, immediate family of US citizens or others “identified in the proclamation.”
The president said the US would monitor the situation to determine if travel could be reopened earlier than the 30-day period.
He said “we are marshalling the full power” of the government and private sector to protect the American people.
Mr Trump said he was also directing agencies to provide unspecified financial relief for “for workers who are ill, quarantined or caring for others due to coronavirus,” and asked Congress to take action to extend that relief.
He said the US would defer tax payments for some individual and business filers for three months to lessen the financial impacts of the virus outbreak. He said the Small Business Administration would also make low-interest loans available to businesses to help them weather the storm.
“This is not a financial crisis,” he said. “This just a temporary moment of time that we will overcome together as a nation and as a world.”
Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell labelled the move as "bizarre", adding how Mr Trump should be following scientific advice, as the UK government is.
"My worry is Donald Trump overrides expert opinion and as a result of that erratic decision making."
The number of confirmed cases of the infection topped 1,000 in the US and the World Health Organisation declared the global crisis was now a pandemic.