Travellers scrambled to rebook flights and global markets reeled on Thursday after US President Donald Trump imposed sweeping restrictions on travel from Europe, hitting battered airlines and further straining ties with the continent.
Trump ordered travel from Europe to the United States restricted for 30 days, responding to mounting pressure to take action against a rapidly spreading coronavirus outbreak disrupting nearly all corners of US daily life.
“We are marshalling the full power of the federal government and the private sector to protect the American people,” Trump said in a prime-time televised address from the Oval Office on Wednesday.
“This is the most aggressive and comprehensive effort to confront a foreign virus in modern history.”
The travel order, which starts at midnight on Friday, does not apply to Britain, or to Americans undergoing “appropriate screenings,” Trump said.
After triggering confusion by suggesting trade with Europe would also be suspended, Trump clarified that “trade will in no way be affected.”
“The restriction stops people not goods,” he said on Twitter moments after his speech.
The surprise restrictions sent financial markets tumbling, with Euro Stoxx 50 futures plunging 8.3 percent to their lowest levels since mid-2016. US stock futures were down more than four percent.
“Already we know the economic impact is significant, and with this additional measure on top it’s just going to multiply the impact across businesses,” said Khoon Goh, head of Asia Research at ANZ in Singapore. “This is something that markets had not factored in ... it’s a huge near-term economic cost.”
Trump said his government had been in frequent contact with US allies about the restriction, but European Union officials were not notified about it ahead of time, said one diplomat.
“There was no heads-up, no coordination as the president claimed,” said the diplomat, who was not authorized to speak publicly.
The restrictions will heap more pressure on airlines already reeling from the coronavirus pandemic, hitting European carriers the hardest, analysts said.
Washington, DC, resident Michelle Cravez, 30, who is visiting her brother in Prague, quickly rebooked a ticket home.
“It quickly became apparent that demand was pushing costs up and seats were going fast,” she said in a Twitter conversation with a Reuters reporter. “Shortly after, we find out that this ruling may not apply to citizens.
“Still, with everything so fluid - who knows whether flights start getting cancelled - we decided to bite the bullet and book a new itinerary that got us home before the deadline.”
In an effort to lessen the economic impact of the outbreak and the restrictions, Trump instructed the Treasury Department to defer tax payments without interest or penalties for certain business and individuals hit by the health crisis.
The president also said he would take emergency action to provide financial relief for workers who are ill, quarantined or caring for others due to coronavirus. And he said he was directing the Small Business Administration to provide capital and liquidity to firms affected coronavirus, including low-interest loans.
In Australia, the government said it would pump A$17.6 billion ($11.4 billion) into the economy to try to stop the coronavirus outbreak triggering a recession.
A senior ruling party lawmaker in Japan said it must brainstorm plans for dealing with cancelled or postponed Tokyo Olympic Games, even if that is unlikely.
SPORTS, SCHOOLS DISRUPTED
Trump’s travel order, which applies to 26 European countries, capped a day of mounting upheavals on the domestic front from the highly contagious respiratory illness, also known as Covid-19.
In the hard-hit Seattle area, the largest public school district in Washington state announced an unprecedented two-week suspension of all classes.
The greater Seattle area is the epicentre of the deadliest, and one of the largest, clusters of coronavirus infections in the United States, accounting for the bulk of at least 38 US fatalities from the disease.
Washington state has documented 373 coronavirus cases, including 30 deaths. There were 1,311 cases in total in the United States, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally.
The city of San Francisco banned non-essential social events of 1,000 people or more, and major sports competitions were affected.
The National Basketball Association said it was suspending the season until further notice after a Utah Jazz player tested positive for the coronavirus while the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) said its wildly popular “March Madness” basketball tournament games would be played in arenas without fans.
Oscar-winning actor Tom Hanks announced on Twitter that he and his wife, Rita Wilson, had tested positive for coronavirus in Australia, where he was on a film shoot.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the annual St Patrick’s Day parade would be postponed, following several other cities that have likewise scrubbed their March 17 holiday celebrations.