US President Donald Trump has announced sweeping new travel restrictions on Europe in a bid to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
But he said the “strong but necessary” restrictions would not apply to the UK, which has 460 cases of the virus.
A presidential proclamation issued later specified that only travelers from the 26 countries in the Schengen border-free travel area were barred.
This leaves some other European countries as well as the UK unaffected.
“To keep new cases from entering our shores, we will be suspending all travel from Europe,” Mr. Trump said from the Oval Office on Wednesday evening.
“The new rules will go into effect Friday at midnight,” he added. The travel order does not apply to US citizens.
There are 1,135 confirmed cases of the virus across the US, with 38 deaths so far.
Mr. Trump said the European Union had “failed to take the same precautions” as the US in fighting the virus. A Presidential Proclamation, published shortly after Mr. Trump’s speech, specified that the ban applies to anyone who has been in the EU’s Schengen border-free area within 14 days before their arrival in the US.
This implies that Ireland is excluded from the ban as it is not one of the 26 Schengen countries. Bulgaria, Croatia, and Romania are also EU members without being part of the Schengen area. Other countries – like Switzerland and Iceland – are part of Schengen but not in the European Union.
Mr. Trump spoke just hours after Italy – the worst affected country outside China – announced tough new restrictions on its citizens. It will close all shops except food stores and pharmacies as part of its nationwide lockdown.
He said the travel suspension would also “apply to the huge amount of trade and cargo” coming from Europe into the US. But he later tweeted to say that “trade will in no way be affected” by the new measures.
Mr. Trump also announced plans to provide billions of dollars in loans to small businesses and urged Congress to pass major tax relief measures in an attempt to stymie the effect of the coronavirus outbreak on the economy.
“We are ordering the full power of the federal government and the private sector to protect the American people,” he said.
Officials had said the risk of infection was low for the general US public, but concern deepened after some new cases were confirmed earlier this month.
Containment efforts have begun in earnest. Troops have been deployed to New Rochelle, just north of New York City, where one outbreak is believed to have originated.
The National Guard will deliver food to some individuals who have been told to self-isolate there.
The governor of Washington State has also banned large gatherings in several counties. The north-western state is the focal point of the outbreak in the US, accounting for 24 of at least 38 deaths across the country.