Trump Says He’s Open to Travel Limits for U.S. Virus Hot Spots

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump said he would consider curtailing travel within the U.S. if an area suffers a major coronavirus outbreak, a move that could dramatically escalate the economic impact of the illness after he announced limits on movement from Europe.

Trump, speaking at the White House on Thursday, said his administration hasn’t yet discussed domestic restrictions -- a measure that some of the worst affected countries, including China and Italy, have taken.

“Is it a possibility? Yes,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Thursday. “If somebody gets a little bit out of control, an area gets too hot.”

Trump Says He’s Open to Travel Limits for U.S. Virus Hot Spots

Trump’s announcement late Wednesday that he would significantly restrict travel to the U.S. from Europe, excluding the U.K., for the next 30 days sent markets plunging.

The S&P 500 Index plunged as much 8.8% and the Dow Jones Industrial Average posted its biggest loss since the flash crash in May 2010. European stocks tumbled 11% in a record intraday rout. The selling that started the U.S. day triggered a 15-minute NYSE-mandated halt, and trading will stop again if S&P 500 losses reach 13% any time before 3:25 p.m. in New York.

U.S. stocks pared the worst of their losses as the Federal Reserve sought to reassure traders by expanding plans for bond buying.

Trump referred to strict quarantine measures that have been imposed in New Rochelle, a community in Westchester County north of New York City, that has experienced more than 100 cases.

“You see what they’re doing in New Rochelle, which is good, frankly, it’s the right thing,” Trump said. “That’s a hot spot.”

Trump Says He’s Open to Travel Limits for U.S. Virus Hot Spots

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, said Thursday that further travel restrictions “would be seriously considered” should the outbreak worsen. Fauci, who was testifying before a House panel, said the U.S. testing system for coronavirus is “failing” and not yet ready to ramp up to test more Americans.

But Trump has sought to cast blame for the pandemic at other countries. On Wednesday, he criticized 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.

Trump, referring to the illness as a “foreign virus,” has mainly taken action to close off borders rather than mitigate the spread domestically, even though there are now more than 1,300 confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S.

His move to restrict travel from 26 European countries surprised the industry, in part because several of those countries have fewer cases than the U.K., where travel is still allowed.

According to Scott Solombrino, executive director of the Global Business Travel Association, the travel industry was bracing for additional flight restrictions, but had expected them to be limited to Germany and Italy, the countries with the largest outbreaks.

When Trump announced the measures for all of continental Europe, “everybody was totally caught off guard,” Solombrino said.

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