WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States is preparing for thousands of new coronavirus cases and will ask Americans returning from abroad to go into “self-quarantine” for 14 days as part of the effort to contain the outbreak, Vice President Mike Pence said on Thursday.
In a round of television interviews, Pence defended the Trump administration’s strategy to stop the spread of the highly contagious COVID-19 respiratory illness, including a clampdown on travelers coming into the country.
“We know there will be more infections in the days ahead. We’re trying to hold that number down as much as possible,” Pence told NBC’s “Today” show.
Pence, who is heading the U.S. government’s strategy to fight coronavirus, said the Trump administration had decided to impose a 30-day ban on travel from Europe because the epicenter of the pandemic had shifted to there from China and South Korea.
The European Union on Thursday criticized President Donald Trump’s decision to impose the ban, which goes into effect on Friday, saying it was not consulted before he announced it in a Wednesday night address to the nation.
Although U.S. citizens and permanent residents are not included in the travel ban, Pence said they would be screened for the coronavirus and asked to go into quarantine for two weeks after returning home.
“Americans coming home will be funneled through 13 different airports, they’ll be screened, and then we’re going to ask every single American and legal resident returning to the United States to self-quarantine for 14 days,” Pence told CNN.
The travel restrictions hammered global stock markets on Thursday.
In U.S. stock markets, the S&P 500 .SPX and the Nasdaq .IXIC indexes cratered into a bear market. The S&P 500 dropped more than 7.5% and the Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI plunged nearly 8%. Airline and some cruise line stocks were particularly hard hit.
In Washington, talks continued over legislation to help gird the U.S. economy against the coronavirus threat, amid fears that it could tumble into recession.
The U.S. House of Representatives plans to vote on Democrats’ sweeping coronavirus bill on Thursday, according to a Democratic aide. Republicans, however, have balked at the plan and called for a delay in considering the proposed legislation.
Pence also said officials are seeking to ramp up testing in all 50 U.S. states and pointed to efforts by commercial laboratories, including Laboratory Corp of America Holdings (LabCorp) (LH.N) and Quest Diagnostics Inc (DGX.N), but gave no other details.
Health experts have said a shortage of diagnostic test kits has made it difficult to gauge the full scale of outbreaks in the United States and curtail transmission of the virus.
More than 1,300 U.S. cases of coronavirus have been confirmed and 33 people have died, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. The hardest-hit U.S. states, such as New York and Washington state, have struggled to quickly expand testing capacity to make such screening widely available.
Reporting by Susan Heavey, Lisa Lambert and Richard Cowan; Writing by Paul Simao; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis