U.S. Ups Travel Restrictions as Trump Says More Cases ‘Likely’

WASHINGTON (AP) -
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar speaks as National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, listen during a briefing about the coronavirus in the press briefing room at the White House in Washington, Feb. 29.( AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

The U.S. is banning travel to Iran in response to the outbreak of the new coronavirus and elevating travel warnings to regions of Italy and South Korea.

Vice President Mike Pence announced the new restrictions and warnings as President Donald Trump said 22 people in the U.S. have been stricken by the new coronavirus, of whom one has died and four are deemed “very ill,” and that additional cases are “likely.”

Trump added that he was considering additional restrictions, including closing the U.S. border with Mexico in response to the virus’s spread — though he added, “This is not a border that seems to be much of a problem right now.

“We’re thinking about all borders,” Trump said.

Travel to Iran is already quite limited, though some families are allowed to travel there on a visa. It is one of the seven initial countries on Trump’s travel ban list, which means travel from Iran also is already severely restricted.

Trump provided an update on the virus from the White House press briefing room for the second time this week after the first reported U.S. death Saturday. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said there was “no evidence of link to travel” in the case of the person who died.

On Friday, health officials confirmed a second case of coronavirus in the U.S. in a person who didn’t travel internationally or have close contact with anyone who had the virus. The U.S. has a total of about 60 confirmed cases. Trump’s tally appeared to exclude cases of Americans repatriated from China or evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship.

Trump said healthy Americans should be able to recover if they contract the new virus, as he tried to reassure Americans and global markets spooked by the virus threat.

He encouraged Americans not to alter their daily routines, saying the country is “super prepared” for a wider outbreak, adding “there’s no reason to panic at all.”

He added he wasn’t altering his routine either. “You’re talking about 22 people right now in this whole very vast country. I think we’ll be in very good shape.”

Trump spoke a day after he denounced criticism of his response to the threat as a “hoax” cooked up by his political enemies. Speaking at a rally in South Carolina he accused Democrats of “politicizing” the coronavirus threat and boasted about preventive steps he’s ordered in an attempt to keep the virus that originated in China from spreading across the United States. Those steps include barring entry by most foreign nationals who had recently visited China.

“They tried the impeachment hoax. … This is their new hoax,” Trump said of Democratic denunciations of his administration’s coronavirus response.

Trump said Saturday he was not trying to minimize the threat of the virus.

“Again, the hoax was used in respect to Democrats and what they were saying,” he said.

Some Democrats have said Trump could have acted sooner to bolster the U.S. response to the virus. Democratic and Republican lawmakers also have said his request for an additional $2.5 billion to defend against the virus isn’t enough. They’ve signaled they will provide substantially more funding.

Trump said Democrats want him to fail and argued that steps he’s taken so far have kept cases to a minimum and prevented virus deaths in the U.S.

As global markets plunged this week, Trump predicted they will come back, and encouraged the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates.

“The markets will all come back,” he said. “I think the Fed has a very important role, especially psychological. If you look at it, the Fed has a massive impact.”