President Donald Trump proposed a slew of policies to tackle the coronavirus pandemic in an Oval Office address on Wednesday night — announcing travel to the US from most of Europe would be banned for 30 days and calling for new efforts to stimulate the economy at home.
It was the first time Trump really acknowledged the depth of the outbreak of Covid-19, the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, citing the World Health Organization’s declaration that it’s now a pandemic.
But he also cast coronavirus as a foreign threat — literally calling it “a foreign virus” — and focused largely on economic measures instead of public health ones, while repeatedly trying to reassure Americans that his administration has things under control.
“This is the most aggressive and comprehensive effort to confront a foreign virus in modern history,” Trump said. “I’m confident that by … continuing to take these tough measures we will significantly reduce the threat our citizens and we’ll ultimately and expeditiously defeat this virus.”
Despite Trump’s assurances, the virus has continued to spread in America, with the total number of confirmed cases in the US topping 1,300 as of March 11, according to the Johns Hopkins interactive map. Due to coronavirus fears, the NBA announced it was suspending games shortly after Trump spoke.
Trump announced a travel ban for most of Europe
Trump’s biggest announcement was a travel ban, which will prohibit people from coming to the US from Europe for 30 days beginning on Friday at midnight. The administration later clarified that the ban would not apply to US citizens or permanent residents abroad.
The restrictions also won’t apply to the United Kingdom, which has fewer reported coronavirus cases than its continental peers but still nearly 500 confirmed cases, and Ireland, which has fewer than 50 confirmed cases. The administration previously put in place restrictions on travel from China.
It’s unclear how this will affect trade with Europe, which could potentially hurt the economy.
The travel ban also does little to stop the spread of coronavirus within the US, which is already happening.
Trump promised more economic stimulus
Trump also promised several measures to stimulate the economy, after a week in which coronavirus scares contributed to the stock market plummeting. He called for tax breaks and aid to small businesses, but didn’t promise paid sick leave or any other help for hourly workers and others without those benefits who might need to stay home — a key demand of Democrats in Congress in any coronavirus relief bill.
- He called on Congress to increase funding for the Small Business Administration by $50 billion to help boost economic loans to impacted regions. (So far, Washington state, New York, and California are the places most affected, but it’s unclear how or if aid will go there.)
- He also promised to take executive action that will “provide more than $200 billion of additional liquidity to the economy” through deferments on tax payments and penalties for people and businesses negatively impacted by the outbreak.
- And he asked Congress to cut the payroll tax. Trump argues this would put money into the economy quickly, including for individuals and corporations, but some experts are skeptical that tax cuts could have an impact quickly since they can take a while to trickle out into the hands of consumers and businesses.
What Trump didn’t say much about: testing
In the rest of the speech, Trump tried to reassure Americans about his administration’s response to the outbreak so far. He pointed out he signed a bill into law that added $8.3 billion in funding for federal agencies to fight the coronavirus and support related efforts, and claimed he’s cut “massive amounts of red tape to make anti-viral therapy available in record time.”
Separately, health insurers have agreed to eliminate copayments for testing, stop surprise medical billing, and help expand coverage related to the coronavirus.
“The virus will not have a chance against us,” Trump said. “No nation is more prepared or more resilient than the United States. We have the best economy, the most advanced health care, and the most talented doctors, scientists and researchers anywhere in the world. We are all in this together. We must put politics aside, stop the partisanship, and unify together as one nation and one family.”
He didn’t do much to address the ongoing problems with federally provided test kits. States, counties, cities, and medical providers have complained that there are simply not enough test kits available, forcing them to ration tests and turn people away. Experts say testing is crucial to finding out who is infected so they can be isolated and those they came in contact with can be put in quarantine.
On that issue, Trump merely stated “testing and testing capabilities are expanding rapidly, day by day,” providing few new details.
The administration quickly walked back much of Trump’s speech
After Trump’s speech, the administration quickly scrambled to take back multiple claims that the president made.
First, the administration clarified the reach of the travel ban. It won’t apply to US citizens or permanent residents, contrary to Trump’s claim that there would only be exemptions “for Americans who have undergone appropriate screenings.” It also won’t apply to Ireland, which Trump didn’t mention.
Second, Trump initially said that the travel ban “will not only apply to the tremendous amount of trade and cargo, but various other things as we get approval” — suggesting it could disrupt trade with Europe. But Trump himself later tweeted that “trade will in no way be affected by the 30-day restriction on travel from Europe,” adding that the new ban “stops people not goods.”
Finally, Trump originally claimed insurers “agreed to waive all copayments for coronavirus treatments.” But insurers clarified they only waived copays for only testing, not treatment.