By Michael McAuliff and Chris Sommerfeldt
WASHINGTON – President Trump took the extraordinary step Wednesday of announcing a suspension of all travel from Europe to the U.S. in an effort to contain the coronavirus, calling the fast-spreading respiratory illness a “horrible” disease that requires an “aggressive” response.
After downplaying the virus for days, Trump struck a serious tone in a national address from the Oval Office and announced that the travel ban will go into effect Friday and last for the next 30 days.
“To keep new cases from entering our shores, we will be suspending all travel from Europe to the United States,” Trump said.
Earlier in the day, House Democrats scrambled to roll out legislation that would provide economic relief for thousands of people forced out of work by the coronavirus.
The mad dash came as the World Health Organization officially designated the virus as a global pandemic, a rare label that has only been used for a handful of diseases over the course of history. The U.S. death toll from the respiratory illness, meanwhile, climbed to 37 and the number of infections surpassed 1,100, with more than 200 in New York.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi briefed members of her party behind closed doors on an economic relief package that would cover sick pay, food assistance, free medical tests and unemployment assistance for families whose lives have been upended by the virus, a Democratic aide told the Daily News.
The price tag for the relief measure was not immediately known, but voting on it is expected as early as Thursday.
The Democratic plan was expected to rebuff Trump’s broader call for a stimulus package that would prop up the shaky U.S. economy by implementing a payroll tax holiday through the end of the year and forking over federal subsidies to industries hit hard by the coronavirus.
Trump pitched Senate Republicans on such a sweeping stimulus measure Tuesday. However, he offered few specifics and Republicans appeared unlikely to support the costly proposal.
Democrats signaled they are interested in providing immediate relief for workers instead of providing aid to companies in a bid to ease the stock market, which has suffered historic losses in recent days amid growing fears over the virus.
“Right now we’re trying to deal with the direct impact of the virus on individual citizens,” House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth, D-Ky., said.
With Wall Street reeling over the WHO’s pandemic announcement, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped nearly 6% on Wednesday, bringing it 20% below last month’s high and officially putting the index into what traders call a “bear market” for the first time in 11 years.
The Dow drop is likely to unnerve Trump, whose bid for reelection is centered on the state of the U.S. economy.
As Democrats rushed to finish their aid plan, one of the Trump administration’s top health officials offered dire warnings about the virus during an appearance before the House Oversight Committee.
“I can say we will see more cases and things will get worse than they are right now,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of Trump’s coronavirus task force and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, adding that the virus could impact “many, many millions” of people if “we are complacent.”
Fauci also affirmed that the coronavirus is 10 times more deadly than the seasonal flu, directly contradicting Trump’s previously rosier assessments.
Globally, some 100,000 people have been infected and more than 4,000 people have died.
Most people recover from the virus within a few weeks and only experience mild symptoms, such as fever and a cough. However, older people and individuals with underlying health problems can experience more severe symptoms, including pneumonia.
The Trump administration has faced intense scrutiny over its failure to provide states with adequate resources to test people for the virus.
Ahead of Trump’s expected Oval Office address, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called on the president to use the emergency powers available to him to declare a national emergency.
“The sustained foot-dragging is no help to containing the spread and has left us all with more questions than answers,” Schumer said. “We need immediate action.”
Story topics: Covid-19