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Coronavirus: US travel ban on 26 European countries comes into force

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President Donald Trump's travel ban on 26 European nations has come into force in the US, as part of a contingency plan to tackle the coronavirus crisis.

It affects countries that are members of the Schengen border-free travel area and excludes the UK, the Republic of Ireland and returning US citizens.

Mr Trump also declared a national emergency, freeing up to $50bn (£40bn) in relief funds.

There are nearly 2,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the US, and 43 deaths.

Mr Trump's administration has faced criticism for its failure to provide Americans with widespread coronavirus testing.

In other developments on Saturday:

  • In New Zealand, PM Jacinda Ardern said anyone entering the country from midnight on Sunday must self-isolate for 14 days; people from small South Pacific islands would be exempt
  • In Australia, the number of confirmed cases rose to 200, with three deaths
  • In China, health authorities said there were 13 deaths and 11 new cases
  • South Korea reported more recoveries (204) than new infections – the second day in a row
  • Colombia said it would close its border with Venezuela at 05:00 (10:00 GMT) and bar any visitors who had recently been in Europe or Asia
  • In the UK, mass gatherings could be banned as early as next weekend, government sources said

Separately, Washington on Friday summoned the Chinese ambassador to protest against comments by a Chinese diplomat that the US military might have brought the virus to China.

The coronavirus originated in China's Hubei province late last year.

But the daily rates of new infections have been slowing in China, making Europe the new "epicentre" of the pandemic.

Italy on Friday recorded its highest daily death toll – 250 over 24 hours taking the total to 1,266, with 17,660 infections overall.

To better co-ordinate the global response to the pandemic, leaders of the world's richest economies – the G7 group – will hold a crisis summit via videoconference on Monday.

Which European countries are affected by the US travel ban?

In all, travel is suspended for 30 days from 26 Schengen countries – 22 European Union members and four non-EU.

They are Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

Mr Trump said the UK's exemption had been made on the advice of "a group of professionals" but could be reviewed because the number of cases had "gone up fairly precipitously over the last 24 hours".

The US travel ban was met with anger and confusion, with EU leaders accusing President Trump of making the decision "without consultation".

What else did Mr Trump announce?

Announcing the state of emergency, Mr Trump stressed that the "next eight weeks are critical".

Among the measures envisaged as part of the emergency response are:

  • The US Health Secretary Alex Azar and health officials can waive certain laws and licence requirements, giving more flexibility to healthcare providers
  • Hospitals have been asked to activate their emergency preparedness plans
  • Up to 500,000 additional coronavirus tests will be available by early next week, though authorities are not recommending tests without clear need; private labs and vaccine developers will be able to provide five million coronavirus tests within the month, though authorities are not recommending tests for those without symptoms
  • Interest on all student loans is to be waived until further notice as a measure to ease the burden for students as universities and colleges across the country shut their doors

Democrats in Congress – and heavily-affected states – had been urging Mr Trump to issue the emergency order, which will also allow more people to qualify for government health insurance.

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Also on Friday, US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced she had reached a deal with the White House on a package to assist people affected by the outbreak.

It includes two weeks of paid sick leave and up to three months of paid family and medical leave, free virus testing for those without insurance and food aid.

Late on Friday a relief bill, agreed with bipartisan support, was passed overwhelmingly in the House of Representatives.

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