US extends travel ban to UK, Ireland; reviews domestic curbs

Washington (AFP) –


The United States said Saturday it was stepping up its fight against the coronavirus and extending a European travel ban to include the United Kingdom and Ireland, while acknowledging that some domestic travel curbs are also being considered.

President Donald Trump has decided to "suspend all travel from the United Kingdom and Ireland" effective midnight Monday EST (0400 GMT Tuesday), Vice President Mike Pence told a White House news conference.

"Americans in the UK or Ireland can come home. Legal residents can come home," Pence said, adding that such people would be "funneled through specific airports and processed."

Asked about possible travel restrictions within the US, Pence said the administration was considering "a broad range of measures, but no decisions have been made yet."

"We're going to continue to follow the facts," he said. "We're going to continue to listen to the experts."

- Anger in Europe -

European officials have reacted angrily to Trump's sweeping travel ban, calling on the US for cooperation to fight the pandemic.

The original 30-day US ban on travel from the 26 countries of Europe's Schengen border-free zone took effect on Saturday, but notably excluded Britain and Ireland.

A senior administration official said Saturday of the new limit on travel from the UK and Ireland that "I do believe it will be the same duration as the Schengen Zone."

The administration had hoped to stop anyone from the Continent using the UK and Ireland as transit points en route to the US, the official told reporters in a background briefing, "but that is proving operationally very difficult for us."

The original move caused widespread consternation among travelers.

Britain's death toll from the novel coronavirus nearly doubled on Saturday, to 21.

Official figures showed the country has 1,140 confirmed cases -- an increase of 342 from the day before. But a senior health official has estimated that the number of infected people is more likely to be between 5,000 and 10,000.

The Republic of Ireland -- which has taken strict steps to stem the spread of the coronavirus -- so far has 70 confirmed cases and one death.