United States Vice President Mike Pence has announced that a travel ban imposed on European nations over the coronavirus pandemic would be extended to the United Kingdom and Ireland starting at 04:00 GMT on Tuesday.
“Americans in the UK or Ireland can come home. Legal residents can come home,” Pence told a White House news conference on Saturday, adding that such people would be “funnelled through specific airports and processed”.
Earlier, a 30-day US ban on travel from the European Union’s Schengen border-free zone took effect on Saturday, but notably excluded the UK and Ireland.
But President Donald Trump later confirmed the ban would be extended to those two countries as the pandemic progressed, saying: “They’ve had a little bit of activity, unfortunately.”
Trump tested for virus
Meanwhile, Trump said he had taken a coronavirus test, adding that his temperature was “totally normal”.
After White House officials took the unprecedented step of checking the temperatures of journalists entering the briefing room, Trump told reporters he took a test for the virus on Friday night and that he expects the results in “a day or two days”.
He met a Brazilian delegation last week, at least one member of which has since tested positive.
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci said the US has recorded 20,226 cases of the new coronavirus, but has not yet reached the peak of the outbreak.
“This will get worse before it gets better,” Surgeon General Jerome Adams said at the briefing.
Pence, who is running the administration’s response to the outbreak, told reporters that visits to nursing homes were being suspended to protect the most vulnerable.
Earlier on Saturday, officials in New York said an 82-year-old woman became the state’s first coronavirus fatality.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the woman, who had previously suffered from emphysema, was admitted to hospital in Manhattan on March 3. He told reporters that the state’s tally of cases had risen to 524. Nationwide, more than 2,000 people have been infected and 50 have died.
On Friday, Trump declared a national emergency in a move that he said would bring “the full power of the federal government” to bear on the escalating health crisis by freeing up some $50bn in aid. He also urged every state to set up emergency centres to help fight the virus.
The pandemic has forced public schools, sports events and cultural and entertainment venues to close across the US.
On Friday, American shoppers picked grocery store shelves clean of products ranging from disinfectants to rice, causing retailers to race to restock their stores. In response to the run on certain items, major retailers have imposed some purchase limits.
Coronavirus took its biggest toll yet on this year’s US presidential election when Louisiana announced on Friday it had postponed its Democratic and Republican presidential primaries.
Early on Saturday, the US House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a coronavirus aid package that would provide free testing and paid sick leave, in a bid to limit the economic damage from the outbreak.
By a bipartisan vote of 363 to 40, the Democratic-controlled House passed a multibillion-dollar effort that would expand safety-net programmes to help those who could be thrown out of work in the weeks to come.
Trump said he supported the package, raising the likelihood that it will pass the Republican-controlled Senate next week.
Economists say the impact of the outbreak on businesses could tip the US economy into recession.