But immediately afterward, his administration made clear it was not as drastic as the President stated: The ban would apply only to foreign nationals and not to American citizens who had been screened before entering the country, mimicking restrictions he applied to China last month.
Trump said he was “marshaling the full power of the federal government” to confront the virus and announced several steps he said would help blunt its economic impact.
While he sought to strike a unifying note for the country, his attempts to pin blame abroad for the outbreak were unmistakable.
“We have seen dramatically fewer cases of the virus in the United States than are now present in Europe,” Trump said, stumbling at moments as he read from a teleprompter behind the Resolute Desk. “The European Union failed to take the same precautions and restrict travel from China and other hot spots. As a result, a large number of new clusters in the United States were seeded by travelers from Europe.”
Trump said the halt on travel from Europe would not include the United Kingdom, and that there would be “exemptions for Americans who have undergone appropriate screenings.”
Later, guidance issued from the Department of Homeland Security clarified the ban applied only to foreign nationals and not to American citizens or their family members.
“We are at a critical time in the fight against the virus,” Trump said. “We made a life-saving move with early action on China. Now we must take the same action with Europe. We will not delay. I will never hesitate to take any necessary steps to protect the lives, health and safety of the American people. I will always put the well-being of America first.”
Trump’s top advisers had discussed potential new travel advisories on Europe during meetings at the White House on Wednesday, according to two officials familiar with the matter. Administration officials view Europe as a new epicenter for the pandemic.
Trump’s move could have dire consequences for airlines and travel companies, and his administration has been weighing steps to provide financial relief for affected industries.
In his speech, Trump spelled out some other areas where he hopes to bolster a flagging economy, including deferring tax payments for some individuals and companies.
He also called on Congress to provide payroll tax relief to Americans, though that idea has been met with some resistance on Capitol Hill.
“We must put politics aside, stop the partisanship, and unify together as one nation and one family,” Trump said. “Acting with compassion and love, we will heal the sick, care for those in need, help our fellow citizens, and emerge from this challenge stronger and more unified than ever before.”
There are 118,000 cases globally and more than 4,000 deaths, the agency said, and the virus has found a foothold on every continent except for Antarctica.
The White House is already proposing to Congress certain economic relief measures to help mitigate the coronavirus’ economic effect.
These disruptions have led to warnings of slowed economic activity and fears of a global recession, sending markets into a tailspin.
Since the market’s high on February 19, the S&P 500 has fallen by 644.8 points, erasing more than half of the gains it had made since Trump was elected in 2016.
CNN’s Jim Acosta, Betsy Klein, Jason Hoffman, Annalyn Kurtz and Kristen Holmes contributed to this report.
This story has been updated with additional reporting.