The announcement could come by President Trump as soon as Friday afternoon, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity to reveal internal deliberations. The officials stressed that no final decisions had been made and that restricting travel is one among a series of options under consideration for how to respond.
The coronavirus emerged in China in early December. The virus so far has killed more than 200 people, all of whom have been in China, and infected more than 9,800 people worldwide. There have been more than 100 cases reported outside of China. The number of people infected has surpassed the SARS 2003 outbreak, but the new coronavirus appears to be less deadly. Studies have estimated that each infected person spreads the virus to two to three other people.
There have been six confirmed cases in the United States, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday reported the first case of person-to-person transmission.
Late Thursday, the State Department issued a “do not travel” advisory for China, the department’s highest warning level, which previously had only been in place for the Hubei province where the outbreak began. That came hours after the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a global health emergency, but said countries should not impose travel or trade restrictions with China.
“WHO doesn’t recommend and actually opposes any restrictions for travel or trade or other measures against China,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a news conference on Thursday. “There is no reason for measures that unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade.”
Dozens of airlines have suspended flights to China and many international companies have urged staff to stay away. Delta Airlines and American Airlines said on Friday they would halt all flights to mainland China.
Trump so far has remained uncharacteristically muted on the coronavirus and praised China’s extraordinary response to the growing outbreak. On Wednesday, he tweeted out photos of his Situation Room briefing and said his administration was working closely with China to contain the outbreak.
Even with the Senate in the midst of Trump’s impeachment trial, a number of GOP lawmakers have begun pushing the administration on its response to the virus.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) called Friday for the administration to issue a ban on travel to and from China and impose increased screenings at U.S. airports.
“Given the severity of the coronavirus in China and its rapid spread across the region, as well as the mounting public fear, it’s imperative that this disease is contained,” Cruz said. “The administration should take every precaution in preventing additional cases from arriving in the United States, including temporarily halting flights to and from China and implementing additional screening at all U.S. airports.”
Trump’s restrained approach runs in contrast to his much more aggressive warnings during the 2014 Ebola outbreak, when he heavily criticized the Obama administration’s response. “The U.S. cannot allow EBOLA infected people back. People that go to far away places to help out are great- but must suffer the consequences!” Trump wrote on Twitter at the time.
“STOP THE FLIGHTS!” he wrote in another tweet. “NO VISAS FROM EBOLA STRICKEN COUNTRIES,” and in still another tweet falsely claimed the virus spread more easily than CDC scientists said.