President Donald Trump said he will significantly restrict travel from Europe to the U.S. for the next 30 days, the most far-reaching measure yet in the administration’s efforts to combat the spread of coronavirus.
Trump, speaking Wednesday evening from the Oval Office, said the restrictions, which won’t apply to the U.K., will go into effect Friday at midnight. He blamed the European Union for not curbing travel from China in the early days of the outbreak, and credited his own measures with having limited the number of cases in the U.S.
“The European Union failed to take the same precautions and restrict travel from China and other hot spots,” Trump said. “As a result, a large number of new clusters in the United States were seeded by travelers from Europe.”
The president in his address laid out a series of fiscal measures to deal with the economic fallout from the rapid spread of a disease he labeled a “foreign virus.” But his remarks — in which he overstated the scope of the travel restrictions and misspoke that he was also curtailing trade — were met with a swift plunge in markets.
U.S. stock futures declined as Trump spoke and continued lower after. Contracts on the S&P 500 sank as much as 4.9%. Futures on the technology-heavy Nasdaq index dropped as much as 5%, triggering a limit-down level that doesn’t allow them to fall too much in a particular session. Stocks from Europe to Asia posted steep declines, and oil plummeted.
In a statement following Trump’s address, Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf clarified that the administration was suspending the entry of most foreign nationals who have been in any of 26 European nations in the previous two weeks.
And while Trump said that the prohibition on European travel would “not only apply to the tremendous amount of trade and cargo but various other things,” a White house official subsequently said the restrictions would only apply to people and not goods.
As markets tumbled, Trump offered further clarification in a tweet, saying “please remember, very important for all countries & businesses to know that trade will in no way be affected by the 30-day restriction on travel from Europe. The restriction stops people not goods.”
The restriction does not apply to legal permanent residents and immediate family members of U.S. citizens. Wolf said U.S. citizens arriving from Europe will travel through specific airports where they can undergo screening for the virus.
As Trump spoke, companies and public officials across the country were taking actions to deal with the rapid spread of the virus. The NBA suspended games until further notice, Twitter Inc. directed employees to work from home and governors and mayors restricted large gatherings.
Following the remarks, the White House announced that Trump was canceling travel to Colorado and Nevada that were scheduled for this week.
The S&P 500 closed Wednesday 19% lower than its February high, with every industry down at least 3.9% on the day.
“This is not a financial crisis,” Trump said. “This is just a temporary moment of time that we will overcome as a nation and as a world.”