President Donald Trump said on Saturday that he would issue a travel warning for the hard-hit New York area to limit the spread of the coronavirus, backing off from an earlier suggestion that he might try to cut off the region entirely.
“A quarantine will not be necessary,” he said on Twitter.
Trump’s announcement came as the US death count crossed 2,100, more than double the level from two days ago. The United States has now recorded more than 122,000 cases of the respiratory virus, the most of any country in the world.
Since the virus first appeared in the United States in late January, Trump has vacillated between playing down the risks of infection and urging Americans to take steps to slow its spread.
Trump said on Saturday afternoon that he might impose a ban on travel in and out of New York and parts of New Jersey and Connecticut, the US epicentre of the disease, to protect other states that have yet to bear the brunt. He offered few specifics, Reuters reported.
Critics promptly called the idea unworkable, saying it would cause chaos in a region that serves as the economic engine of the eastern United States, accounting for 10 percent of the population and 12 per cent of GDP.
“If you started walling off areas all across the country it would be totally bizarre, counter-productive, anti-American,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said on CNN.
Hours later, Trump dropped the idea, saying he would instead ask the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to issue a “strong Travel Advisory” that would be administered by the three states’ governors.
The CDC later warned the states’ residents against non-essential domestic travel for 14 days. It said the warning did not apply to employees of “critical infrastructure industries” including trucking, public health and financial services.
It was the latest reversal for Trump, who has been reluctant to order US companies to produce much-needed medical supplies, despite the pleas of governors and hospital workers.